Let's begin with Howard the Duck #1 (written by Ty Templeton, pencilled by Juan Bobillo, inked by Marcelo Sosa). As you might have gathered from the Friday Night Fights excerpt, its humor is pretty broad, and not as incisive as Steve Gerber's original stories. Bobillo's take on Howard is also just different enough from Frank Brunner's and Gene Colan's Disney-duck riffs to take some getting used to. There's a little more Harvey Pekar in Bobillo's Howard these days. Outside of the Cleveland setting, the American Splendor comparisons probably stop there as well. Still, it was a diverting enough story, hardly decompressed, and tied into the wacky side of Marvel a la Dan Slott. It won't make you forget about Gerber, but I don't think it's a traveshamockery.
The highest praise I can give to another blast from the past, the JLA/Hitman miniseries (#2 came out this week, #1 two weeks ago, both written by Garth Ennis and drawn by John McCrea), was that it made me want to read all sixty issues of the original Hitman series. I knew nothing about Tommy Monaghan before reading these issues, but by the end I was sorry to see him go.
When word came out that Roger (Power of the Atom) Stern would be writing an issue of All-New Atom (#16, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Trevor Scott), I spouted off that it would be good, but not Gail-Simone good. Well, I was wrong, and happily so. This issue was great fun, perfectly in sync with Simone's status quo. An alien turns Ivy Town into dirty hippies, with Ryan Choi having to use his iPod to save the day. The best part was the punk band's (unintentional?) reference to the "Tear It Down, Wipe It Out" song from Action Comics #398's "The Pied Piper Of Steel." Thankfully, Atom's music festival feels much more authentic than Action's attempt at a Woodstock pastiche.
And speaking of Action Comics (#856 written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner, drawn by Eric Powell), this week brought the creepy, effective continuation of its “Bizarro World” story. Powell’s art really does the heavy lifting here, and it sets an appropriately spooky tone. It helps excuse the more violent aspects of Johns/Donner's Bizarro, glimpsed briefly in the previous storyline. If this Bizarro is misguided, it's to the extreme. Therefore, Powell fills these pages with blocky, clumsy figures, keeping Superman and the other Earth-people smooth and fluid. The combination makes the story more worthwhile, because a more "realistic" artist wouldn't have made the grotesque figures the norm. Still, There’s probably a bit too much evisceration, though, and I’m not going to excuse it “just because they’re Bizarros.” It's not like they're robots -- those are actual, if imperfectly-duplicated, guts.
More viscera is on display in Tales Of The Sinestro Corps: Cyborg Superman #1 (written by Alan Burnett, pencilled by Patrick Blaine, inked by Jay Leisten), specifically when the Cyborg defiles his late wife's grave. Most of the issue re-tells the few Adventures Of Superman issues which transformed a Reed Richards parody into a ... well, for a while, an overused, somewhat lame villain, but unlike the Parallax special from a few weeks back, the larger plot is actually advanced, and that's nice. The art is serviceable -- thick, somewhat stiff, and chunky, not unlike the original Dan Jurgens work on the character.
This week also saw another "Sinestro Corps" installment in Green Lantern Corps #16 (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentis Rollins), specifically the big battle involving Mogo and Ranx. For those of you who remember the Alan Moore story which informs much of "Sinestro Corps," this issue relies upon its prophecy most heavily, with Mogo having to repel bombardiers and the Daxamite Sodam Yat coming into his own. It was a good, suspenseful issue, although I pretty much knew how it would have to turn out. I thought Gleason and Rollins kept things moving well, and made characters distinct, but in crowd scenes I still had trouble telling Yat from the other male-human-looking GLs.
Jumping back into the creepy-zombie realm for a moment, here's Welcome To Tranquility #11 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Neil Googe), the continuation of its Devil-raises-the-dead-to-destroy-the-living story. I really liked this issue, both as an action story and as a quirky evocation of a superhero-centered community. The Kyle Kite vignette was a good example of the latter, bringing together the innocence of children's comics, the twisted take Simone and Googe have on them, and the juxtaposition of all that with a carnage-filled zombie tale. I do feel like I've spent enough time with these characters to get comfortable with them, so naturally I'm worried that the book will be cancelled. There's also a sweet backup story (drawn by Irene Flores) about a teenager who finds she's more in tune with manga than with Western comics, and it's fine; but I kept expecting it to switch to right-to-left and I don't think it ever did.
I guess Jamal Igle is off Nightwing (#137 written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Jon Bosco, inked by Alex Silva), which is too bad, because Bosco and Silva don't have the same fluidity to their work as Igle and (I think) Keith Champagne brought. Anyway, this issue was the end of the big woman-from-Dick's-past story. While the plot still seems a bit arbitrary -- apparently super-soldiers are involved, not unlike the battlesuit of Wolfman's first Nightwing arc -- I did appreciate the relation back to New Teen Titans. I have beaten the drum of strengthening Dick's ties to his past for a while now, probably to death, so it's always nice to see writers doing just that. This is Wolfman's last issue too, if I remember right, and the ending is soured somewhat by having it tie into his new Vigilante series. NTT did that too, of course, albeit a littel more gracefully.
Igle pencils this week's Search For Ray Palmer: Crime Society (written by Sean McKeever, inked by Rob Hunter), which is actually the origin of Earth-3's Jokester. McKeever's clever script successfully re-casts the tragedies which formed the Joker into a story of a hard-luck anti-hero. The timeline's a little screwy, but this is an alternate Earth after all. Igle's pencils are pretty tightly inked by Hunter, giving them an appreciably different look than I'm used to, but it all works. The issue is much better than I expected a Countdown one-off to be.
Detective Comics #837 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Wayne Faucher) is a Countdown tie-in which focuses mostly on the Riddler and the former Harley Quinn, filling in Harl's backstory leading up to Countdown. To me it demonstrated how much better Dini is at writing Harley than the Countdown writers have been so far -- there she's generally wacky; here you can tell she has a brain. Of course, there she only gets a few pages to herself, and here she's much more in the spotlight. Anyway, Harley and Holly get embroiled in the theft of a Wayne Industries MacGuffin, which leads the Riddler to their women's shelter. Batman and Robin are in it too, briefly, but the book is Detective Comics, not Batman, after all....
Finally, Countdown #30 (written by Dini, Justin Gray, and Jimmy Palmiotti, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Jesus Saiz, inks by Palmiotti) is all over the place, checking in on Karate Kid and Brother Eye, Trickster and Piper behind the scenes at the Green Arrow/Black Canary wedding fight, and Jimmy Olsen escaping from scientific study, before settling on the Challengers of the Beyond on Earth-15. (You can tell it's Earth-15 not just from the captions, but also from the little Earth-symbol on the cover. Thanks, DC!) On this Earth, everyone's taken over for their mentors -- Donna is Wonder Woman, Jason is Batman, and Kyle is GL #1. There's not much to this part of the story beyond catching one's breath with some character insights. Jason and Bat-Jason fight, and a few more alternate-version heroes show up. The cliffhanger switches scenes again, to Harley and Holly on their way to Themyscira (misspelled "Themyscria" -- or is it?) Giffen's breakdowns and Saiz's pencils keep everything moving, at least. On the whole I was entertained, but it's still pretty hard to embrace Countdown unreservedly.