Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Comics I Read: Lightning Round #3 in a Four-Issue Limited Series

More minimally edited "off the top of my head" impressions...


Batman 698-705: Don't remember much about Tony Daniel's Riddler story in #698-99. LOVED Morrison's tale of three Batmen in #700 and the bridge between RIP and Final Crisis in #701-702. #703 kicked off the Vicki Vale plot that I liked in "Road Home". Daniel's back in #704-705, and I like that he's including some scenes with Dick representing the Wayne Foundation plus a nice mix of new characters and old ones that haven't been seen in a while.


Batman and Robin 12-18: I loved how the structure of "Batman & Robin must die" was basically the inverse of "RIP", and as I said before I enjoyed how all the pieces came together at the end. I'm not sure I could explain out loud what it all means and precisely how it all fits together, but I think I understand it in my head (if that makes any sense.) I wouldn't want to see everyone attempt this style of entertainment, but Morrison's a master and I loved having my brain bent. I'm also glad it's over. Damian's the best new Batman character since "Batman Beyond", so I'm glad he's sticking around and getting a chance to interact with his father. The "Batman, Inc." setup is innovative, and I'm excited to see how it plays out. (I just try not to think too hard about Bruce Wayne admitting he's funded Batman for billions of dollars when he probably could have better improved lives in Gotham by using that money to write every citizen a check.) Paul Cornell fills in starting in #17 while Pete Tomasi finishes up "Brightest Day", and his story is good but it's my least favorite thing that he's written lately. (Always a treat to see Scott McDaniel, though.)


Batman: The Dark Knight 1: I was nervous about this book because David Finch kept describing it as the "supernatural" Bat-book, which is not usually my taste in Batman stories. Plus, I'd kind of prefer that Morrison be the only one writing Bruce for now. However, this is surprisingly well written and of course Finch's art is great. As I said before, I like to support writer/artists so I'm happy this is very good so far. The supernatural element hasn't come into it yet, but according to Finch's latest interview it's mostly limited to Etrigan and Ragman, both of whom have history with Batman, so I probably won't be bothered by it.


Batwoman 0: Looks gorgeous, of course, (from both artists) and Williams proves he can write Kate well. Very much looking forward to the regular series. I'd love to see Greg Rucka come back and write the story of Kate making a choice about reenlisting now that real-world events will soon make that possible, but that seems unlikely to happen. (Not that Williams couldn't or won't tell that story well, but Rucka says he's had a plan in mind for when this day came.)


Black Widow 7-8: I liked these issues better than Duane Swierczynski's first, and I did buy the hardcover of Marjorie Liu's run so I'll reread that in one sitting and report back about whether I liked it better that way.


Booster Gold 34-39: While Giffen & Dematteis have brought the (allegedly) funny a little more than I'd like, I'm very pleased that they've acknowledged the growth in the character and are basically getting the humor from the contrast between JLI Booster and Time Master Booster. They've also sort of made him a father which, surprisingly, works. And, despite myself, I actually smiled when I saw the character who returned in #38. As long as it doesn't become a habit. (The character, not the smiling.) Anyway, it all leads up to Booster finally being able to mourn Ted Kord in #39, the best issue of the run so far.


Captain America 608-613: I wasn't in love with the first half of the Zemo arc, because he seemed pretty mustache-twirlingly eeevil which is not how he's been portrayed lately. (See the excellent "Born Better" mini.) But by the end, it's apparent that his motivations are more ambiguous than they first seemed and even though it was mostly setup for the "Trial" story following I wound up liking the story. Bucky's trial, basically in the works since the moment we learned about the Winter Soldier's crimes, has been a great story so far. (Interesting that Brubaker's characters all wind up in jail eventually, though.) I've also been really enjoying the "Nomad" backup, so I'm disappointed that it will soon be coming to an end to make way for another feature.


Chaos War: X-Men 1: Kinda like "Chaos War: Dead Avengers" but with dead X-Men. But my first X-Men comic ever was #95 where Thunderbird dies, so it was a little sentimental to see him again. And all kidding aside, I've always liked Louise Simonson's work and this is the first thing with Chris Claremont's name on it I've liked in a long time. Throw in the art of the always great Doug Braithwite and you wind up with a surprisingly good package.


Fantastic Four 583-586: Hickman's the first writer to really get these characters since Mark Waid. If you like intricate plotting, but the spy setting of "Secret Warriors" isn't for you, then this is the book you should be reading. (And Marvel announced this week that they're keeping these four issues in print, so they should be easy to find.) It's a great adventure story (that's the key), and though I wouldn't have picked Steve Epting to draw it he's doing a magnificent job. I guess I should make a prediction about which member Hickman will kill, but I honestly have no idea except that I assume it won't be Reed because Tom DeFalco already did that back in the 90's. If you forced me to pick, I would lean towards Ben because he's physically the weakest at the moment and there's the odd timing of the WWII "Liberty Legion" stories featuring the Thing from Marvel Two-In-One being collected in hardcover in the spring (but that could be a Cap movie tie-in too).

Flash 3-8: Johns has sold me on Barry's return with his first story, especially with the promise of Wally and the others on the way in the next arc and in a spinoff book. I'm really impressed with how well the evolution of Francis Manapul's "Adventure Comics" art style works here. (It apparently has a lot to do with the coloring too because Scott Kolins' issues have a similar look.) It's great to see the rogue profiles, which hopefully will help the book stay on schedule, return in #7-8. There were some details in the Boomerang story in #7 that I had forgotten (like that he was originally a toy mascot), although I would have liked to see the details of his relationship with Bart's mom finally revealed. The way Johns frames the Reverse-Flash in #8, as someone who's constantly changing history, is fascinating but could easily get dangerously out of hand by making all stories impermanent. Looking forward to the new speedster "Hot Pursuit" in the next story, and "Flashpoint" after that.


Green Lantern: Larfleeze Christmas Special (one-shot): Just when you think you've seen all Geoff Johns' tricks he creates quite possibly the loopiest Christmas comic in the history of Christmas comics, cookie recipe and all. Bruce Timm should do it as an episode of the GL animated series next year.

Green Lantern/Plastic Man: Weapons of Mass Deception (one-shot): I'm a big fan of both Marv Wolfman (New Teen Titans) and Brent Anderson (Astro City), but their names in the credits don't exactly scream hilarity, you know? Trust me, you can pass on this one.


JLA/The 99 1-3: Stuart Moore and Fabian Nicieza, both of whom have experience in the DCU, tell the story of a team-up between the "classic" JLA (including Wonder Woman in her new costume, oddly acting like nothing has changed, and smartly John Stewart as Green Lantern) and The 99, a Muslim super-hero group. It's not the best thing ever, and I don't think it's convinced me to start reading "The 99", but it's engaging and I'm happy to support the effort. DC didn't have to do this with their flagship characters, and in fact they took some crap for it, so good for them.


Legion of Super-Heroes 3-8: I may be somewhat repeating myself here, but this is supposed to be off the cuff so I'm not going back to read what I wrote about the first couple of issues. Give it up for Paul Levitz, who returned to this book like he never left, and smartly included elements (Earth-Man, Green Lantern) from some of Geoff Johns' most popular stories of 2009-10. I loved the preview of Legion Academy, and I'm thrilled that we got to have a Legion election again, that the Internet voting gave us a result in one month instead of several, and especially that the result (which I won't give away) disrupted Levitz's plans for the rest of the year. I think the book is also accessible to new readers, but I've been a Legion fan for so long that I'm not really in a position to judge. Why not try the first collection and let me know?


New Avengers 1-7: Pretty much the same book it was before "Heroic Age", which is to say it's still great. There is a good reason given for Cage's group to exist separately from Stark's team, and the addition of Victoria Hand as the team's liason to Steve Rogers is a clever touch. The first arc clears up all the "magic is broken" threads that Bendis planted throughout the previous series, and fans of both Dr. Strange and Rick Remender's Dr. Voodoo won't want to miss it. My guess is that some people will hate #7, which is all talk, but I loved it. This is my second favorite Avengers book behind "Avengers Academy".


Punisher: In the Blood 1-2: Rick Remender, wrapping up all his Punisher plots from before the Franken-Castle era, with higher stakes than ever. Great dialogue ("They should have killed Osborn day one.") and art, recommended for Remender Punisher fans and Punisher purists alike.


REBELS 18-23: Tony Bedard gets the "Agents of Atlas" award for trying everything possible to sell one of my favorite books. Since the "Blackest Night" issues, he's brought in Brainiac, Pulsar Stargrave, Lobo, a couple of rookie Green Lanterns, the Guardians, and now John Stewart (not to mention finally justifying the book's title). All without seeming cheap or compromising his story. The latest story arc in #21-23, about the Psions and how their women are treated, is surprisingly bold, dark and sophisticated. Bravo DC for letting Bedard do it, and I hope at least some of you will sample this book because it could really use your support.


Secret Six 23-28: I was all set to rave about this, my drop-dead absolute favorite comic being published by DC and then I read this "Best Ongoing Series 2010" post from the excellent "DC Women Kicking Ass" blog that summed up what I wanted to say really well. (I agree with all her other "best of" choices too, except "Smile" and "Time Bomb" which I haven't read.) I'll only add that Amanda Waller fans and Ryan Choi fans will find a lot to like in #28. Buy this book! (But don't read it to your kids.)


Secret Warriors 20-23: This series is almost over, so I don't want to spend too much time trying to convince you to start reading it now, but the last few issues have been brutal and I'm not convinced that any of the cast will make it out alive. (Note that Phobos, god of Fear, is a character in this book which means there might be "Fear Itself" clues within.)

Superman 700-706: The "walkabout" story concept is pretty straightforward and not that much of a singular vision (as far as we know), so JMS leaving this book is not the train wreck it is for "Wonder Woman" (more on that later). I've liked, but not loved, the JMS issues so far, and G. Willow Wilson's spotlights on Lois Lane and Perry White were long overdue. The Perry White story is a little cliche -- newspaperman (good) vs. new media (bad) but still fun. I haven't read "iZombie" or "Starborn" yet, so I'm not familiar with new writer Chris Roberson, but he's been giving good interviews about how much he loves the character which makes me optimistic. Of course, that's what JMS said too...

THUNDER Agents 1-2: This has jumped immediately near the top of my list of favorite DC books. I'm less familiar with the original '60s version of this concept than the '80s revival with Keith Giffen and George Perez, but Nick Spencer has done a terrific job at modernizing it without fundamentally changing it. It reminds me somewhat of the "wheels within wheels" plotting of Hickman's "Secret Warriors" with the added twist that the agency has limited superpowered resources and has to recruit down-and-out individuals to serve as the previous ones die or burn out. I also like that the focus is as much on the regular agents as on the super ones (actually moreso on the humans in these first issues). Cafu, whose art was wonderful in the "Vixen" miniseries, really steps up to the plate here in both the urban and wilderness superhero settings. I highly recommend you get in on the ground floor here: if this book isn't a hit, then I don't know what is. (But then, I think REBELS, Doom Patrol and Secret Six should be top sellers and they're not, so what do I know?)


Time Masters: Vanishing Point 1-5: Reasonably entertaining -- especially fun to see Claw and the "First Issue Special" version of Starfire -- but pretty pointless considering Bruce Wayne's return is done and moved on from and this series isn't. Is there a good reason this couldn't have been 6 regular issues of "Booster Gold"? (Maybe Zoom's appearance means this is tied into "Flashpoint" somehow?)


Ultimate Comics Spider-Man 150-151: I've got to hand it to Bendis for transforming this book after "Ultimatum", and again in #150. The core (Peter) is the same, but first he turned up the teenage drama with a superhero twist as Aunt May took on boarders, as well as a new take on J. Jonah Jameson. (And, I might add, the Chameleon's impersonation did permanent damage here.) Now he's transformed it again by having SHIELD not allowing Peter to operate unsupervised. These are things that just couldn't be done in the Marvel U, and Aunt May's message to Gwen in #151 is one of the most heartbreaking pages I've read in a long time. It'll be nice to have Mark Bagley back for the "Death of Spider-Man" event, but hopefully David Lafuente and Sara Pichelli get to come back afterwards because they've been doing great work. I'd rather see them stay here and put Bagley on "New Avengers".


Ultimate Comics Mystery 1-4: Spoiler alert: I mention this series here solely because of my correct Twitter prediction of the villain before issue #3 shipped. J


X-Men 5-6: OK, I agree that this recovered quite a bit in the last two issues: most notably the clever Iceman bit and the explanation for Wolverine's conversion in #5, and the Cyclops/Blade and Cyclops/Dracula scenes in #6. Enough so that I'm willing to give the next arc a try, but it's still my least favorite of the X-books. (Not counting all the Deadpool books I'm not reading, I guess, although I did somehow wind up with a copy of Girshler's "Prelude to Deadpool Corps" trade that I'll try to get into at some point.)


Young Allies 6: Really terrific last issue. Thank you, Sean McKeever and David Baldeon.


I've gone way long again, but I think I can get caught up in one more segment. Detective Comics, Doom Patrol and lots of books with "Green", "Hulk" and/or "X" in the title still to come. See you later in the week!

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