Wednesday, December 01, 2004

New comics 12/1/04

It was a light week, but again I'm pretty happy with what I bought.

Superman/Batman #15 was a slight letdown from last issue. The hated dual first-person narration is almost nonexistent, and even when it is used it actually enhances the story. Carlos Pacheco's art is gorgeous -- big and epic, fitting the storyline. Even when his characters strike poses, they look natural. As for the story itself (by Jeph Loeb, just so I mention both creators), it's a quick trip across the evil alternate DC-Earth, mostly involving a couple of fights between Superman and Batman and the superheroic "resistance." There are shout-outs to DC history from now to the 31st Century, and major characters don't make it through the issue. I say it was a letdown from last time because a lot of it felt like "stunt plotting" -- particularly the heroes of the resistance, and those the villains send out to fight them. (Actually, the first couple of pages felt like Loeb was ripping off Planetary, but I might be reading too much into it.) The last page, which ties into this series' first arc, illustrates the potential problems with this arc. That first arc was a big load compared to this one -- not to say that this one is Macbeth -- because it tried to be grand and glorious and ended up overblown and goofy. So far this one is grand, but it wouldn't take much to tip it to goofy.

Detective Comics #801 begins writer David Lapham's 12-issue "City of Crime," illustrated by Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill. While I was confused by, and therefore not very impressed with, Lapham's backup story in last month's issue, this one is much better. Lapham weaves a number of plot threads through a sort of Gotham travelogue, showing the problems of ordinary citizens and how Batman would try to save them all if he could. The main plot involves a 14-year-old heiress who is at the center of a new development with which Bruce Wayne wants no part. What happens to her gets Batman into the story, but the issue ends with a seemingly unrelated tenement fire.

Lapham's copious use of narration is effective at giving the reader essential information about the large cast of "regular people" who populate this issue. While he does veer into the sort of psycho-mystical jibjab about Gotham's spirit "creating" the various disfigured villains in Batman's rogues' gallery, it's kept to a minimum. Bachs and Massengill really complement the story, delivering solid, efficient art that evokes a crowded, busy city. Their Batman is both iconic and rooted in reality, and they make good use of his height and cape to make him feel larger-than-life. Jason Wright's colors do an excellent job of giving the pages a sense of depth and mood -- not bright, certainly, but not overwhelmingly dark either. All told, an enjoyable start to what will hopefully be a great arc.

There is a backup, "The Barker," by Mike Carey and John Lucas, which centers around the murder of a circus performer. It took a little while to get going, although it wasn't bad. I am reserving judgment until future installments. The story does offer a good in-joke -- namely, that no circus has gone near Gotham City since Dick Grayson's acrobat parents were murdered by gangsters.

Firestorm #8, written by Dan Jolley and drawn by Jamal Igle and Rob Stull, picks up in the aftermath of last issue, when Jason's dad discovered he was Firestorm. This issue, Jason is visited by Lorraine Reilly, the previous Firestorm's ex-girlfriend and a superheroine herself. She has come on behalf of the Justice League to try and figure out what happened to the Firestorm she once knew. Thus, feeling pressure both from his dad and from the JLA, Jason escapes into his heroic identity.

The series continues to be entertaining, last month's crossover notwithstanding, and this issue might have been one of the best so far. The "other half" of Firestorm provides some good comic relief, and Jason once again wrestles with how best to use Firestorm's powers. Of course, Jolley can't have Jason wondering about these issues forever, but hopefully things are coming to a head. Jason's relationship with his dad is particularly compelling -- while his Firestorm exploits are strongly reminiscent of old-school Spider-Man, Spidey never feared getting the snot beat out of him by Aunt May. Igle and Stull's art is good -- reminiscent of this series' first penciller, ChrisCross, although not as lively. The one complaint I had is rooted in classic Firestorm lore -- I thought he couldn't transmute organic material. Oh well, we'll see how that plays out next issue, when Jason faces the consequences....

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