Thursday, July 15, 2004

New Comics for July 14, Part 1

Big week this week, including several good issues. Since I’m turning out to be long-winded, I’m breaking these up into two posts.

Identity Crisis #2: Written by Brad Meltzer, drawn by Rags Morales and Michael Bair. Two basic storylines this issue –- a flashback to the “Satellite Era” of the Justice League (judging from Zatanna’s costume and the dialogue about Iris Allen’s death, around 1979-80) and checking in with the B-list villains in the old Injustice Gang satellite. The murder mystery is still intriguing, although there are some rather unsavory images surrounding the hideous events of the flashback. (In this respect IC is closer in spirit to the old Squadron Supreme maxiseries than the current Supreme Power is.) I have to say that the hype is fairly accurate –- this was a shocking episode for the old League, and their reaction will probably color my perception of them and Dr. Light for a while to come. Anyway, while the Leaguers square off against Light in the present, Dr. Mid-Nite’s autopsy reveals a surprise about the murder. It’s nothing earth-shattering, and like I said the story is still pretty involving. One word about the art, not that it’s not good: Morales and Bair make Light look suitably creepy, and Hawkman (thanks mostly to the mask) looks menacing, driven, and in charge. Since they represent opposite sides in this story, their depictions are good shorthand for the villain’s mania and the heroes’ determination.

The Legion #35: Gail Simone, Dan Jurgens, and Andy Smith come aboard to wrap up this Legion series. (Mark Waid and Barry Kitson take over in the fall.) Obviously the first thing one notices is the fetishistic cover, with Dreamer and her prominent breasts held prisoner by our new villain. (It looks like Adam Hughes art, but I can’t find a credit.) Actually, while the exact image isn’t in the story itself, Dreamer’s captivity is an important part of the plot, so I can’t entirely fault DC. They sure are– I mean, the cover sure is eye-catching....

Ahem. The story itself is quite good, featuring an attack by mysterious villains reminiscent of familiar modern-day DC heroes. They plan to assassinate the United Planets’ President, but that’s only the beginning. I am of two minds about making allusions to modern DC characters -- on one hand, it might indicate the series couldn’t stand on its own; but on the other, it takes advantage of “DC history.” Coming off a storyline which brought evil versions of those heroes into the future to fight the Legion, it seems redundant, but then again, these aren’t quite the same characters.

Simone gives the Legion a more accessible sense of humor (i.e., not as many in-jokes) and places them in a 31st Century Metropolis which feels more “real” than previous incarnations. (The opening pages show readers a floating prison which gives new meaning to the phrase “Not In My Backyard.”) Jurgens’ pencils are less stiff here than usual, perhaps because he’s only credited with breakdowns. Andy Smith’s finishes soften Jurgens’ lines and Sno-Cone’s colors give the figures depth and dimension. The color palette is particularly rich here, spread among the cool hues of the city, the harsh tones of the villain’s hideout, the darkness of the prison, and the vibrancy of the Legion uniforms. Legion is biweekly too for the duration of the story, so get this issue now and come back in two weeks!

Teen Titans #13: This is Part 1 of a story featuring Beast Boy’s powers “infecting” schoolchildren. Writer Geoff Johns also takes the opportunity to catch up with the Titans in general through a window-shopping interlude and a visit to the doctor. Penciller Tom Grummett has handled most of these characters before in his career –- the older Titans in the classic New Titans series, and Robin and Superboy in their respective solo series -- so it's nice to see him back. One panel of the Titans strolling downtown shows their relative heights (Cyborg and Starfire are tallest, Beast Boy is about a head shorter, and Raven, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl are shorter still) and helps illustrate the characters’ age differences and the fact that the younger members are truly adolescent.

As the cover promises, Superboy confronts the new Robin, Stephanie Brown, and is none too happy to hear about Tim Drake’s absence. Again, Grummett drew both of these characters for many years in the Robin and Superboy books, so here he makes them both move with ease and fluidity. His take on Stephanie is a nice compromise between the stylization of Damion Scott and the more “realistic” approach of Pete Woods, and I hope Stephanie shows up in these pages again.

JSA #63: Apparently this is Old Home Week for artists. Penciller Jerry Ordway returns to the characters which helped make him famous in the 1980s (in All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc.). His clean, dynamic work, here inked by Wayne Faucher, is always welcome. Geoff Johns writes this book too, and unlike Titans, it is fairly continuity-heavy and seeks to pull together a few subplots imbedded throughout the book’s history. Let’s put it this way –- the Justice Society is “visited” by Sand, its former chairman, who was somehow lost in the bowels of the earth. At the same time, Hector Hall, the current Dr. Fate, seeks to rein in Nabu, the Lord of Order who lives in his magic amulet. It starts to get tangled when you realize that Hector was also a hero called Sandman, who had nothing to do with geology but lived in a dream realm. Thus, the JSA launches a two-pronged search for Sand, one underground and the other into the dream state. I have a feeling it also involves plot threads from DC's revered horror/fantasy series Sandman, which only briefly touched on superheroics. Johns isn’t as slick in dealing with continuity here as he is in Teen Titans, but these are potentially confusing issues and he juggles them pretty well.

One thing about Ethan von Sciver’s cover -– apparently the Flash has a mouth that Jessica Simpson would envy....

JLA #101: Yet another Part 1, and a biweekly story too, as writer Chuck Austen and penciller Ron Garney begin a 6-issue arc called “The Pain of the Gods.” This installment features Superman second-guessing himself when he encounters a newly-minted superhero (whose name we never learn, by the way). In one way the story is one big plot hole, because one could argue that Superman should have been fast enough to handle all of the problems involved; but since Superman knows he could have done better, arguably that fixes the hole. It boils down to Superman being deliberately thick, so I guess your reaction to the story will depend on how thick you think Supes should be. Garney’s art is rough but expressive, and he does a good job both with the action of the story’s first part and the conversations of the second.

Challengers of the Unknown #2: Howard Chaykin’s all-new take on the venerable “living on borrowed time” team picks up after the disaster which brings the group together. No one should have survived the explosion in Long Beach harbor, but five people did, and for some reason they’re all wearing identical jumpsuits and rings and sporting identical head wounds. There’s a lot of indirect exposition from everyone, a brief fight, and a decent amount of scantily clad women -- so if I wanted to be cute, I'd say it was a typical Chaykin outing. Chaykin approaches his villains with relish, drowning them in satirical dialogue that would make even their models at Fox News blush, but the purple prose of his narrative captions doesn’t work as well. On the whole, it’s not his best work (wait for the reprinting of his seminal American Flagg! for that) but so far it’s not his worst. It’s about on par with Midnight Men, a 4-issue series from about 10 years ago that seemed like a pale imitation of his Shadow reinterpretation. We’ll see.

Next up: Action, Batman, and the Schwartz is with us....

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