Thursday, August 19, 2004

Recent Releases Reviews Roundup, 8/18/04 Edition

More good stuff than not. This week the good stuff gets mentioned first.

I really liked DC Comics Presents The Atom. Its two standout stories share a title, “Ride A Deadly Grenade!” The first recycles the familiar-if-not-cliched “put Julie Schwartz in the story” gimmick, but it’s still madcap fun, especially in the way Julie’s friends accept and even trust his crazy ideas. The second seems to channel the spirit of Schwartz’s heyday, using his off-the-wall ideas as springboards for actual crimes. It has much the same wacky spirit as the first story, making for a great read.

Fantastic Four #517 ties into the big Avengers “Disassembled” event mostly by showing us that with the Avengers gone, the FF will have to be trustworthy enough to satisfy the people of New York. While the thrust of the issue is to rehabilitate the FF’s public image (destroyed after Reed invaded Latveria), as a practical matter it doesn’t make sense. Someone’s stealing Manhattan Island, so naturally they’ll try to stop it without waiting for the Mayor to light the “4" flare. (I didn't even know he had a flare. When did he go to Commissioner Gordon school?) It doesn't make much difference anyway. There’s still plenty of fun and adventure, and even some Halloween shenanigans. I hesitate to call this Waid and 'Ringo's triumphant return, since Waid didn't go anywhere and the past few issues weren't that bad, but together they really work some magic here.

Speaking of crossovers, “War Games” rolls on this week in the Batman books. In Gotham Knights, a Russian mob boss allies herself with an African-American mob boss against the gang led by Bat-villain Scarface. However, before I have time to worry about what this means, there’s a double-cross and Scarface ends up joining one side. Hush meets with the Mystery Villain, which is ironic, because he used to be an M.V. himself. Prometheus is back as Hush’s bodyguard. Penguin has also amassed a handful of C- and D-list supervillains to offer as bodyguards to the other imperiled mob bosses, but they’re not buying. On one semi-ridiculous page, the mobsters take turns saying one sentence. What, no Mad Libs? Meanwhile, Batgirl conveys Batman’s message to Tarantula that her hoods should join up with Orpheus’.

The sheer number of characters – not counting the unnamed cannon-fodder crooks – is already becoming unwieldy. Even Crisis on Infinite Earths had its limits. So far there’s Batman, Oracle, Batgirl, Spoiler, Catwoman, Nightwing, Tarantula, Orpheus, Onyx, and Tim Drake for the good guys. Bad guys include Penguin, Hush, Deadshot, Scarface, and Prometheus. Penguin’s stable of super-goons – none of whom get lines in this issue, and I’m omitting some because I don’t know who they are – include Electrocutioner, Firefly, Trickster, and that eyepatched girl from the Ghost Dragons. Add in the mobsters, who you’ve seen I can only distinguish by ethnicity, and with all the fights and team-ups I am really starting to miss the omniscient narrator.
You know, Teen Titans opens every issue with little head shots of the main characters and a couple of sentences about who they are, and for the most part we already know. These crossovers are designed to get us to read books we wouldn’t otherwise read? How about filling us in on what’s been going on so we feel more comfortable reading the frickin’ thing?

Ahem.

Story continues in Robin #129, which is actually a pretty tight tale about the non-costumed Tim protecting a mobster’s daughter. Secret identity concerns take a back seat, probably because Tim doesn’t think he has a Robin identity anymore. The cynical part of me says that this will be a big part of Tim resuming the role once “War Games” is over. He can tell his worrywart dad that there is violence everywhere, and he can be more effective as yadda yadda yadda. Tim is hyper-capable here, but his actions weren’t really far-fetched when I considered this was the same kid who’s had adventures all over the place with Young Justice and the Titans. This issue’s art team also told a better story than Damion Scott has. (It helps that the action all takes place in daylight.) They gave Tim dark circles around his eyes which in some shots looked like the Robin mask. Other than that there’s not a costume in the entire issue.

Batgirl #55 shows her journey across town to meet up with Batman at the school. Along the way she runs into Spoiler and urges her to go home, but probably nothing doing. I have a feeling that this issue is meant to be contemporaneous with the Robin one, so other than everyone being in place, the plot isn’t really advanced.

This week in “War Games” has inspired a couple of ghoulish thoughts. First, I get the feeling that the whole thing is an editorial plan to pare down the number of Gotham mobs and make the books that much simpler. I’m all for that. Second, it was advertised that serious harm (if not death) would come to one of the Bat-heroes. The cynic in me observes that

-- Orpheus, Onyx, and Tarantula don’t have their own comics,
-- DC won’t kill another Robin, even a former Robin, and
-- Tarantula has sinned by corrupting Nightwing.

Doesn’t look good for the femme fatale from Bludhaven.

Over in Birds of Prey, Huntress and Vixen try to escape the cult compound, Oracle learns that her computer’s been invaded by an unexpected cyber-adversary who looks to have seen Demon Seed one too many times, and Black Canary tries to stop suicidal teens in super-costumes. This title is no stranger to wild adventure, and its heroines have faced Apokoliptian hordes and prehistoric beasts, but this issue seems to have taken that left turn into “Whaaa...?” territory. When I say the cyber-foe is "unexpected," I mean in the sense of "Where the hell did we get this?" There are two installments left in the current story, and it still makes a certain kind of sense, but it doesn’t look as good anymore.

Adventures of Superman follows two tracks – Lois in “Iraq” (called Umec so DC’s lawyers can breathe more easily) and Superman finishing up his fight against Ruin and Ruin's lackey. Different pencillers handle the two threads, although I’m not quite sure why. Lois’ story is objectively harrowing, but familiar to anyone who’s seen enough war movies. Given her particular situation, it was almost a Freudian slip for the Superman panel at San Diego to point out “we all know Lois isn’t going to die.” This is the second straight issue in which Rucka has underwhelmed me, and it’s starting to get disappointing. There is a hint that Ruin’s plan ties into events over in Superman, so that’s something positive; and Clark’s art is good as ever.

This week‘s Astro City special features “Supersonic.” I’ve followed most of Astro City but can’t remember if I’ve seen this guy before. Certainly he hasn’t been spotlighted like he was in this issue. He seems like a cross between the Silver Age Flash and Green Lantern. The special offers a a bittersweet contrast between his glory days, now decades ago, and the present, when he has to stop a giant robot from killing an entire suburb. Just about anything Astro City-related is worthwhile, and this is no exception.

In a perfect world, Supreme Power #12 would actually wrap up a year’s worth of storylines and subplots – but why should this issue be any different from the others? Hyperion is still pissed off at the government for manipulating him, just like he was 5 months ago. Nighthawk and Blur are on an actual case which is nowhere close to being solved, since it was just introduced last issue. Zarda goes on a lethal shopping spree which will probably catch Nighthawk’s attention about 3 issues from now. Dr. Spectrum makes a connection with the scientist supervising him, and Amphibian makes a fairly meaningless cameo. The Dr. Spectrum miniseries also premiered this week, but I’m not getting snookered by it on a monthly basis. If this book is going to be produced for the paperback, then on the slim chance I decide to read any more of it, that’s how I’ll do it. (And even that is suspect. It’s one thing to end arcs on quasi-cliffhangers filled with ominous portent; but it’s another to do it every six months without actually resolving anything.) These characters aren’t nearly compelling enough for me to follow their sordid exploits at such a paint-drying pace.

Credits:

DC Comics Presents The Atom. Story #1 written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Pat Oliffe, and inked by Livesay. Story #2 written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, and inked by Jon Bogdanove. Edited by Eddie Berganza.

Fantastic Four #517. Written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Karl Kesel, edited by Tom Brevoort.

Batman: Gotham Knights #56. Written by A.J. Lieberman, pencilled by Al Barrionuevo, inked by Francis Portella, edited by Matt Idelson.

Robin #129. Written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Giuseppe Camuncoli, inked by Lorenzo Ruggiero, edited by Michael Wright.

Batgirl # 55. Written by Dylan Horrocks, drawn by Sean Phillips, edited by Michael Wright.

Birds of Prey #72. Written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Ron Adrian, inked by Rob Lea, edited by Joan Hilty.

Adventures of Superman #631. Written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Matthew Clark and Renado Guedes, inked by Andy Lanning, edited by Eddie Berganza.

Astro City Special: Supersonic #1. Written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson, edited by Ben Abernathy.

Supreme Power #12. Written by J. Michael Straczynski, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal, edited by Nick Lowe.

1 comment:

Shane Bailey said...

I have to go hunting for the Astro City special this weekend because my shop didn't get it in.