Wednesday, June 29, 2005

New comics 6/29/05

Lots of books and lots to say about 'em, so settle in.

As it happens, the first two books I read this week were Green Lantern #2 (written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Carlos Pacheco) and JLA Classified #9 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, pencilled by Kevin Maguire, and inked by Joe Rubenstein). I enjoyed both books on their own merits, but on a deeper level I appreciated what they each seemed to be saying between the lines.

To me, these books were the "before and after" of Big DC Controversies. GL represents for some the correction of a tremendous wrong, and for others the concession to a vocal, single-minded minority. Either way, though, it stems out of a Big DC Controversy from over ten years ago. Likewise, "I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League!" is blissfully ignorant of Blue Beetle's and Sue Dibny's deaths and Max Lord's ruthlessness -- but because it presents Beetle and Max in much happier times, it can't help but comment, however obliquely, on their respective fates.

Obviously "ICBINTJL!" is a bittersweet read, in part because it revisits the death of a colleague in a fairly minor Big Event from even farther back. However, it stands on its own, making no attempt to fit itself into the overall DC timeline, and for that I have to give it a lot of credit. The creative team got back together to tell the kinds of stories they liked, and picked and chose only those elements favorable to them. Again, while it has something to say about those characters' bleak futures, it doesn't dwell on them. "ICBINTJL!" isn't defiant in a middle-finger kind of way. Instead, it celebrates the good ol' days and reminds the reader that they exist in perpetuity.

For its part, Green Lantern tries very hard to evoke the feel of a typical Hal Jordan adventure. It's a better read than issue #1 was (or much of Rebirth, for that matter), because it too isn't bogged down in a lot of baggage. There's a mysterious android heading for an Air Force base, vaporizing people along the way; Hal's got some issues with his old CO, who (naturally) is running said base; and there's a decent amount of power-ring action when those elements come together. As with JLA Classified, I liked the fact that Johns seemed to be saying "now that the formalities are over, here's the regular superhero stuff," and Pacheco's art was its usual fine job. (My one quibble was with the last page, where there's either a fairly obvious artistic omission or Hal's in a lot of trouble.) This was a well-executed, entertaining issue of what could be a very enjoyable straightforward superhero series. Considering everything that's happened to Hal Jordan in the past eleven years, for this iteration of Green Lantern to be so normal is an accomplishment in itself.

Johns' "Rogue War" barrels further toward its conclusion in Flash #223 (art by Howard Porter and Livesay), which focuses mostly on the new Zoom and his twisted psychology behind "making Flash a better hero." Zoom seems, consciously or not, to be Johns' commentary on the new grim 'n' gritty trend he's helping to perpetuate, so this latent bit of satire is actually endearing him to me. Beyond that it's more of a big fight, with an appearance from Kid Flash a pleasant surprise. Johns and Porter pile on the carnage, building to a good cliffhanger. If "Rogue War" ends up defining Johns' tenure, as I suspect it may, I will definitely give his issues a second look.

My copy of Wonder Woman #217 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Michael Bair and Mark Propst) had a transposed page, but I could still follow the action. Many of Rucka's Olympian subplots are resolved in this issue, apparently leaving Diana free to deal with Rucka's superhero soap opera in his other books. It all plays out like you'd expect, but under the circumstances that's not so bad. However, my other problem with the issue is the coloring. Much of the issue has Diana, Wonder Girl, and Ferdinand the man-bull fighting dark-colored man-beasts in the underworld, so it's hard to tell where Ferdinand is or what mythological creature is fighting the bright-colored superheroines. Also, how long has Mercury been dead? Was it since "War of the Gods" back in '91? Anyway, Rucka writes an appealing Mercury, and I didn't realize I missed him so much.

Batman #641 (written by Judd Winick, with art by Doug Mahnke and Dustin Nguyen) concludes the Red Hood storyline by finally placing that flash-forward from the December issue in the proper context. Honestly, it was about what I expected, right down to the Hood's motivations. Bruce's sentiments on the last page sum it up well for me too, but only because I'm expecting some other twist to reverse the whole thing. I've liked the writing and the art from these guys so far, but it looks like I'll have to wait a couple of months before they pick up this thread again.

Batman Allies Secret Files & Origins 2005 (written and drawn by various people) was a decent enough issue. Each of three stories helped describe the new status quo. Batman revives an alliance with Det. Montoya in the first one; Commissioner Akins gets a light-hearted little tale; and Robin and Batgirl get a lead-in to their next big storyline in the third. The Batman story (written by Russell Lissau, with art by Brad Walker and Jimmy Palmiotti) starts off with the kind of faux-noir narration which is really wearing out its welcome, but once it gets into the conversation with Montoya, things pick up. The Akins story (written by Will Pfeifer, with art by Ron Randall) doesn't have far to go with its premise, but gets enough out of it. Finally, the Robin/Batgirl story (written by Andersen Gabrych, with art by Tom Derenick and Ray Snyder) is pretty much all setup. However, I have to wonder -- with Montoya and Akins so prominent in this special, why no "Who's Who"-style page on the Gotham Central cops?

I was surprised to see "OMAC created by Jack Kirby" on the credits of The OMAC Project #3 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Jesus Saiz and Cliff Richards, inked by Saiz and Bob Wiacek), because this incarnation seemed only superficially like Kirby's. Didn't see much to change that opinion this issue, but it was a crackling good read nonetheless. Rucka uses Batman effectively, showing how dangerous the OMACs are and what Batman's place in the larger superheroic fraternity really is. This too has a decent cliffhanger, although it leads (rather unfairly, for a miniseries) into July's Superman books and Wonder Woman. Finally, although it probably doesn't coexist peaceably with "ICBINTJL!," Rucka and Saiz' Guy Gardner and Booster Gold don't seem incompatible with Giffen, DeMatteis, and Maguire's.

Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #3 (written by Grant Morrison, art by Simone Bianchi) started out heavy on the exposition, but ended up turning into a very scary series of "oh no" moments. I'm looking forward to the conclusion in 2 months. The art was quite good, although it was hard to tell at times which of two female characters was speaking; and as with issue #1, the series of dark, strange shapes making up the bad guy army was also hard to tell apart. Other than that, though, very exciting and a good advertisement for #4.

I bought Planetary #23 (written by Warren Ellis, art by John Cassaday) mostly because I don't like waiting a generation for each paperback, so it's hard to judge where each issue fits into the overall scheme of things because I don't keep up with the story in the long periods without any new issues. Anyway, this issue -- whose cover apes the Armageddon poster, for some odd reason -- featured the origin of the Drummer, but didn't much advance the macro plot as far as I could tell. When I read everything again in one setting, I'm sure it will make more sense.

City Of Tomorrow! #3 (by Howard Chaykin) was also just kind of there, what with our hero seducing various android women and generally trying to impose a new kind of order on the futuristic community of Columbia. I like Chaykin, but I think it is another "read all at once" situation.

Spider-Man/Human Torch #5 (written by Dan Slott, art by Ty Templeton) wraps up the miniseries with a sweet story set in the present day. Slott turns the tables on Johnny, each character realizes the other's grass is greener, and it all ends with a "family album" of the Parkers and the Richards' good times. While I was a little surprised that the series ended with a bit of actual news, in hindsight that elevates it to more than just a collection of vignettes. Not that I don't like Slott's GLA, but this makes up for a lot of the carnage over there.

Fantastic Four #528 (written by J. Michael Straczynski, art by Mike McKone and Andy Lanning) continues Reed's work on the secret government project to re-create the FF's origin, but introduces a hoary subplot involving a meddling social worker who thinks Franklin and Valeria might be best served in someone else's care. JMS also seems to be toying with an "intelligent design" idea behind the FF's origin, and while I didn't read any of his Spider-Totem stuff over in Amazing Spider-Man, I fear that's where he may be going here. Still, the social worker situation is worse, because that looks like it will play out very predictably. Besides, I have dealt with social workers on behalf of my clients, and in my experience they don't just pop in unbidden -- someone has to call them out. I would also think that protecting thousands of New York children from hunger and poverty is a lot more important than making sure Franklin and Val Richards -- who live with superheroes -- don't have to worry about Dr. Doom and Galactus.

Finally, I have saved the best for the end of this long slog. Solo #5, featuring the work of Darwyn Cooke, was great fun to read and a fine showcase for Cooke's versatility. Yes, there is a Batman story; yes, there are many references to the New Frontier period; but it hardly feels commercial or like he's sold out. Cooke manages to infuse everything with his unique style without having that style overwhelm any story. Each story is also distinguished by the use of different colors and inks. The whole thing is framed by a Slam Bradley/King Faraday sequence at the archetypal "bar where everyone goes," but the stories run the gamut from autobiographical to topical. It's a beautiful package and the best $4.99 I've spent in a while.
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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

New comics 6/22/05

It was a light week this week, so I guess the law of averages caught up with me.

Legion Of Super-Heroes #7 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Art Thibert and James Pascoe) goes to Colu, as Brainiac starts to piece together who's been hounding the Legion. The emphasis on Legionnaire backstory isn't as strong this issue, although the setting gives Waid a chance to fill us in on Brainy, however indirectly. He does a good job of making the misanthropic scientist sympathetic, and one gets the feeling that the hyper-intelligent Coluans are the picked-on nerds in the galactic high-school social strata. There is also some movement towards confronting Terra Firma, the villain group; but the shakeup in Legion leadership, advertised on the cover, doesn't really happen this time out.

Astro City: The Dark Age #1 (written by Kurt Busiek, with art by Brent Anderson) kicks off the biggest, deepest, darkest Astro City storyline ever attempted, with a story set in the volatile, paranoid days of 1972. Astro City watched Watergate too (I was waiting for some little bit of alternate-history tweaking), and Busiek uses that lesson in abuse of power as a backdrop for a growing mistrust of superheroes. Actually, it's more of a contrast, because even though Nixon was re-elected, the superheroes come off a little better. The story itself is told through the eyes of a thief whose brother is a policeman, but nothing much happens to them this issue -- they are just eyewitnesses to history. As with any AC tale, there is the usual game of spot-the-surrogate, and Busiek works in a clever reference to Mike Friedrich, a young DC writer during the early '70s, so it's pretty much business as usual -- and business, if I may say, is good.

Appropriately enough, Captain America #7 (written by Ed Brubaker, with art by John Paul Leon and colors by Frank D'Armata) is a Busiek-esque tale recounting the history of Jack Monroe, a fellow who (as the story points out) spent most of his life being the second guy in a famous costume. It is not a happy story, because we know Jack's fate and we learn early on that he wouldn't have survived long anyway. I am sure there are oblique clues to the "Bucky mystery" revealed last issue, but this issue doesn't go out of its way to highlight them. In fact, it is set up so that virtually nothing from Jack's point of view is absolutely credible -- and yet we know that someone wanted him dead, so they must not have known his real problem.

Anyway, I had never "met" Jack Monroe before this issue, but Brubaker eulogized him well. I also enjoyed seeing the art of John Paul Leon, someone I've liked ever since his early work on Milestone's Static. Here his lines are thicker and his work a little cleaner, so it looks a bit like Ty Templeton at first. However, soon it settles into his usual quasi-realistic style, not unlike David Mazzucchelli or Michael Lark, which fits perfectly with this tale and the current take on Cap as a whole. Frank D'Armata's colors give depth and dimension, and may even be a little brighter and more varied than his work on the first arc. This standalone issue doesn't have to fit into the larger story arcs to be enjoyed, but I am curious to see what Brubaker does with it.
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Friday, June 17, 2005

New comics 6/8/05 and 6/15/05

You get two weeks in one thanks to bad timing on my part. (Lots of Bat-books -- wonder why?)

Off we go.

Gotham Central #32 (written by Greg Rucka, with art by Steve Lieber) was the best of the past couple of weeks. It's a tidy little story about a couple of crooked Gotham cops' encounter with Poison Ivy. Too bad A.J. Lieberman just killed Ivy in the pages of Gotham Knights, because this tale represents not only Gotham Central's bread and butter, but also an indication of what the Bat-titles could be across the board. Gotham City offers perhaps the richest single environment in the DC universe, if not superhero comics as a whole, and there is tremendous value in peeking into its corners -- not just exploiting it with mega-crossovers.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #192 (written by J.H. Williams III and D. Curtis Johnson, with art by Seth Fisher) begins what looks like another Mr. Freeze-centered arc -- right after concluding a Freeze two-parter last issue, and while Freeze is appearing in both Batman and Detective Comics. Is Arnold Schwarzenegger exercising some eight-year-old option? Anyway, it's couched in the origin of Mr. Freeze, but it looks to explore the "sidekick question" as well. Were I not burned out on Freeze (so to speak) I might have been in a more receptive mood, but the story itself is fine, and the art is unusually bright and open -- not to mention overtly expressive -- for a modern Batman story. I am therefore giving "Snow" the chance to win me over.

Rann-Thanagar War #2 (written by Dave Gibbons, art by Ivan Reis and Marc Campos) started giving me bad flashbacks to the Official Revised Hawkman Origin from JSA a few years ago, what with its talk of Onimar Synn and weird Thanagarian cults. I hate having to make sense of Hawkman, who is ostensibly not that hard of a character to understand. Thankfully, there's more stuff with Kyle Rayner, L.E.G.I.O.N., and the Khunds to occupy this issue. Captain Comet also shows up, as does Starfire's sister Komand'r. The politics and action are balanced pretty evenly, the exposition isn't too heavy, and Reis and Campos make a good art team. I continue to enjoy this miniseries.

Before Action Comics #828 (written by Gail Simone, art by John Byrne and Nelson) turns into a Villains United tie-in, it's a pretty decent continuation of the Dr. Polaris story begun last issue. Polaris' evil alter ego, Repulse, poses some Hobbes-the-tiger-style questions about who can see "her" and how, and the issue as a whole is a little unfocused. It switches from Superman's fight to Jimmy Olsen's coverage of it and then throws in Lois exposing a charitable scam before wrapping everything up with a sweet Lois/Superman romantic excursion. Still, it's good to see Lois and Jimmy being reporters, and the individual stories are each engaging.

Batman: Dark Detective #3 (written by Steve Englehart, with art by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin) was perhaps my second favorite book of last week. It used a Two-Face setup I'd always wanted to see, and it also teamed him up with Dr. Double X, another forgotten Bat-villain from the '50s and '60s. Moreover, Englehart continues his exploration of Bruce's integrating the two sides of his life, again using Silver St. Cloud to do so. That's fascinating enough -- whoa, Silver, close up that robe! -- but the Two-Face subplot was almost as good.

So then this week I got Dark Detective #4 and was disappointed at how little it did. Basically it's an extended fear-gas fantasy going back (yet again) to the immediate aftermath of the Waynes' murders. I had a bit of a continuity issue with this, because I thought Leslie Thompkins had been established in this timeline fairly concretely, but Englehart is obviously tweaking things to suit his memory of the character, and that's fine too. Also, Silver breaks up with her fiance. Because that's about it, in a miniseries that has been fairly jam-packed so far, that's why I was disappointed. Not enough to drop the miniseries (with only two issues left, mind you), just to question this issue's pacing.

Speaking of issues which appear to go nowhere, here's Batman: Gotham Knights #66 (written by A.J. Lieberman, art by Al Barrionuevo and Bit), featuring Prometheus' abduction by Talia and Deathstroke. Being smart super-criminals, they recognize they don't need Hush, but since Prometheus gets critically injured, they bring him along to try and save Prometheus' life. This gives us a chance to recap Prometheus' origin (written by Grant Morrison for a 1997 JLA special) and reflect on how he could now be at such a low point. In the end nothing is settled, because it's all been setting up a JSA Classified story for later in the year. Thanks, DC! At least Cliff Chiang's cover portrait of Talia is cool.

After two issues of waiting, Day of Vengeance #3 (written by Bill Willingham, with art by Ron Wagner and Dexter Vines) finally lets me know (on page 9 or so) that the masked woman is Nightshade, formerly of the Suicide Squad. However, on page 1, it tells me who Captain Marvel is. Thanks, DC! Although the Captain Marvel/Spectre/Eclipso subplots appear to conclude this issue, it ends with Detective Chimp and Nightshade visiting a mysterious girl whose name I didn't recognize but probably should have. I liked the art better this issue because it seemed better-defined than Justiniano's. Also, while Willingham's plot has been decent so far, his script doesn't come off as clever as he thinks it must. This is my least favorite of the various Infinite Crisis precursors.

Adventures of Superman #641 (written by Greg Rucka, art by Karl Kerschl) finds Clark visiting Pete Ross in prison and being attacked by the sibling Parasites and OMAC (which, as the cover proclaims, no longer stands for One Man Army Corps). Kerschl tends to draw big, meaty figures who fill up the panels, so he's fairly well suited for a Superman title, and Rucka is clearly connecting Ruin with the Shadowy Figures behind OMAC. Therefore, I can't really judge this issue on its own, but it does advance the various plots Rucka has been maintaining during his tenure. Still not as good as Rucka's Wonder Woman, but getting there.

Seven Soldiers: Klarion #2 (written by Grant Morrison, art by Frazer Irving) likewise connects this book with its S7 cousin, Guardian, albeit obliquely. Klarion and Teekl find enemies and allies on their way up to the surface world, although telling one from the other gets a little sketchy. Morrison does establish that Klarion isn't as helpless as he might seem, and Irving's deadpan art (in the Charles Addams/Edward Gorey tradition) reinforces that.

It's too bad that JLA Classified #8 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, with art by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubenstein) is the penultimate chapter of "I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League!," because the story hasn't missed a beat since these creators left the League titles in 1992. Here, the team has found its way out of Hell, but Beetle's got amnesia and they're stuck on a strange evil-counterpart Earth. The cover, with a dominatrix Mary Marvel pounding Guy Gardner's head into the pavement, says it all, but it's only a warmup for what's inside. I really hope that when DC's Infinite Gyrations are over, it looks into its cold corporate heart and lets these guys play with these characters on a more ongoing basis.

As it happens, I picked up GLA #3 (written by Dan Slott, with art by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar), which on the surface appeared to be a similar story of hard-luck loser superheroes, and has since turned into an amazingly bitter black comedy about random superhero death. I'm almost glad I don't have much emotional attachment to these characters, but this miniseries paints them so sympathetically that it's almost as cruel to the reader as it is to the decedents. Makes me wonder about the tone of next issue's conclusion.
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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Even The DC Logo Looked Good

Let's get one thing out of the way first: Batman Begins is far and away the character's best (and most ambitious) live-action adaptation; and if the Best Wife Ever's reaction is any guide, it's also a pretty decent movie in its own right.







First of all, the plot serves the characters well. I'm always wary of origin-story movies because they tend to spend the first act getting the hero into costume while at the same time setting up an unrelated plot which will blossom into the villain's origin. Begins meshes Bruce's personal journey with the aims of Ra's al Ghul, such that the two men aren't just fighting for the future of Gotham City, they're pitting competing viewpoints against each other. It's a much better situation than the "you made me, I made you" dynamic of Tim Burton's Batman, because it makes Begins feel more ... mature, for lack of a better term; and not so much an excuse for the last act to be a big Batman fight.

(That doesn't stop the last act from centering around a big Batman fight, of course, but it feels more natural here.)

The characters themselves are played very well. Christian Bale carries the movie, as you'd expect, but that's even more of a compliment considering that previous Bat-films relied more heavily on the villains. Bale and Gary Oldman are the standouts here, with Oldman being an effective audience-identification character. Liam Neeson is also good, but as my wife said, "If I have to see Liam Neeson waving some kind of sword around one more time--!" In the same vein, I don't care if he's playing Jesus Christ, Rutger Hauer just screams "bad guy!" whenever he shows up.

Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine put in fine performances (although Caine + young Bruce = Cider House Rules) and both provide a fair amount of humor. Cillian Murphy and Ken Watanabe are just kind of there to be creepy, but they do that well. As Carmine Falcone, Tom Wilkinson perhaps overacts the most, and still not a lot. Finally, I don't know if Tom Cruise hurt my enjoyment of Katie Holmes' performance, but she's a little less believable as an assistant DA than Angie Harmon was.

The film's atmosphere is spot-on. Batman is more of a presence than an action figure in this movie, crawling around tenements and looking genuinely scary as he interrogates bad guys. However, there are a number of very cool Bat-moments -- pinups on screen, as it were, with bats a-swirling and cape unfurled -- which gave me chills. Not since Darth Vader has a man looked so good in a black caped costume. (I also liked the "origin" of the Bat-Signal.) To its credit, Batman Begins also shows a good bit of Bruce Wayne in his "James Bond" roles, nicely juxtaposing the white-collar crime with the street-level stuff.

Now to the nitpicks. These aren't so much criticisms as "that's not how it was but it makes sense" items.

First, Bruce is pretty wink-wink with Lucius Fox about his secrets. However, it works about as well as the comics' explanation that Bruce and Alfred just stole all the prototypes from a Wayne warehouse. Besides, Lucius' don't-ask, don't-tell attitude gives both him and Bruce plausible deniability.

Along the same lines, Katie Holmes is the movie's Jiminy Cricket, reminding Bruce of his responsibilities to social justice -- so naturally she gets to learn the secret too. This wouldn't have been so bad had she not been preceded by Vicki Vale, Selina Kyle, and Chase Meridian. She also gets a weird scene late in the film where she has to protect the Kid Who Believes In Batman. While not a bad scene on its own, it was kind of strange that those two characters would find each other.

Finally, there is no real "I shall become a bat" scene in the movie, not even an ironic one. Instead, the movie devotes so much time to Bruce's childhood fear of bats and his conquest of said fear, you'd think he wouldn't have needed the bat-in-the-window moment to confirm his choice of motif. Still, because the movie shows us the bat in the mansion, I was waiting for that punchline. I would also have loved some mention of criminals being a superstitious and cowardly lot, but again, the movie doesn't miss it much.

Overall, this was an excellent film. I was surprised at how much my wife liked it, since she has no reason to like Batman on principle. She said it reminded her of the dark tone Burton took, and she may even have liked it better than Spider-Man -- high praise indeed.

I had feared Batman Begins would delve too much into the minutiae of the character, but it doesn't. Instead, it shows Bruce's evolution in a way none of the others have, and the plot develops around his choices. While I have a few reservations, they are the preferences of a guy who's been imagining this movie for a long time. I hope a sequel is forthcoming, because I'm curious to see what this team does with the foundation they've laid.
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Friday, June 10, 2005

Our Super-Adventure Across Three States!

Sorry for not explaining this sooner, but the lack of updates has been due to our finally having moved into the new house. (Notice the change of location in the little "Profile" box.)

The Best Wife Ever drove to Lexington last weekend and we spent Saturday and Sunday getting ready for the movers. They arrived Monday morning and before I knew it, virtually all of our material possessions were boxed up or otherwise ready to go. That included the computer; hence, the lack of updates 'til now.

A slightly different crew showed up Tuesday morning to load the truck. Tired, hot, and sweaty by evening, we went to see The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (we both approved, although my wife thought it moved a little slow), slept at Stately Bondurant Manor (my parents' house), and were on the road Wednesday morning by 9:45.

It all went pretty well until I got a flat during a rainstorm somewhere on I-81. That put us about four hours behind schedule, but we did get a deal on four new tires. We got to the hotel in Williamsburg around midnight and got to sleep around 12:30, ready to get up bright and early Thursday morning to meet the movers at 8:00 a.m. They were through unloading at 12:30 p.m., so since then it's been a constant parade of cleaning, unpacking, and re-assembling. I still can't find half our telephones or my wife's cordless mouse.

Of course, I did manage to find a comics shop not too far away, so you'll be hearing about that before too long.

[edited to add] Why the title? Well, the first books I unpacked to read before going to sleep last night were Superman in the Fifties and Superman in the Sixties. They filled me with Weisingerian goodness.
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Saturday, June 04, 2005

Six Months Later...

Now that Dan DiDio has confirmed "One Year Later...," I thought I'd remind everyone of this post, which contained my thoughts on a one-year-later Batman storyline.

DiDio also doesn't want to look back too much at the JSA's heyday:

... the DCU is a generational story, and while time does progress, if you try to tell stories set in the past, it pushes the three major heroes up in the timeline, putting more time in between the first superheroes of the DCU and the modern day trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Telling stories that do that, Didio said, is something he's very cautious about.

As it happens, this week I'd also been talking about superhero generations over at The Great Curve, so I'm eager to see how the older folks are handled. DiDio's comments seem to confirm that DC won't let Supes, Batman, or Wonder Woman age -- although two out of the three are functionally immortal and the third could renew himself with Lazarus Pits as in Byrne's Generations. Therefore, DC may be feeling the crunch of too many characters spread over too wide a range of time, and I wonder how those characters will be "de-emphasized."
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Friday, June 03, 2005

New comics 6/2/05, Part 2

Picking up the spare....

Seems like all the major bloggers reviewed Firestorm #14 (new writer Stuart Moore joins returning artists Jamal Igle and Rob Stull) last week when they got advance copies, and I can't disagree with their largely positive analyses. However, in one fell swoop Moore eliminated most of what I thought was intriguing about Dan Jolley's version -- the notion that Jason needs to merge with someone to become Firestorm, Jason's money troubles, and his problems with his father. (Still a slight air of tension with Dad, though.) In their place Moore gives us a not-unappealing setup -- Jason works for S.T.A.R. Labs Detroit (footnoted redundantly in the same panel), is getting ready for college, and must deal with the disillusionments living on one's own inevitably bring. Pretty even trade, and I have to say that the constant barrage of hardship could have gotten tiring fairly quickly; so welcome, Stuart Moore, and stay a while.

I wasn't going to pick up Batman Villains Secret Files & Origins 2005 (written and drawn by various folks) until I saw the vintage Clayface origin story. Written by Steve Purcell (of Sam & Max fame) and drawn by Mike Mignola and Kevin Nowlan, it was a heartfelt, hilarious look at a simpler time -- when all a man needed to become a super-criminal was to find a mysterious pool of chemicals and fall into it. Purcell writes like he's just OD'ed on Ty Templeton's Mad-Dog miniseries, and Mignola and Nowlan really capture the right amount of deadpan humor. The obligatory Who's Who pages and the other actual story do their best to build up both Black Mask (okay, maybe) and Hush (uh, no). By the way, that lead story (written by Bruce Jones, with art by Eddy Barrows and Jay Leisten) has one good surprise but otherwise is an exercise in exposition. Still, the Clayface bit may well be worth your $4.99.

Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #2 (written by Grant Morrison, with art by Ryan Sook and Mick Gray) features a powerless Zatanna's fight against the Shapeless One who she conjured last issue. To do so she visits one Cassandra Craft, who I feel like I should recognize but don't quite. Anyway, Morrison works in some old-school DC references to make me feel more at home, and together with the Gilmore Girls-like vibe I get from Zatanna and her apprentice, this is a good issue. Sook and Gray's art also stands out. Sook seems particularly to have come a long way from The Spectre or even the Arkham Asylum miniseries.

Finally, there's Incredible Hulk #82 (written by Peter David, art by Jae Lee, colors by June Chung), appearing only one week after #81. (House of M crossovers wait for no one!) This is a decent little tale of Bruce Banner helping a "lost" love's spirit find rest after her death, and while the twist ending isn't unfamiliar, the actual ending is quite effective. On the cover Lee's Hulk looks almost like Boris Karloff, but inside he's a real side of beef, made more mysterious by fog effects and Chung's excellent muted color palette. If I decide not to get the HofM issues, this could tide me over pretty well.
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Thursday, June 02, 2005

New comics 6/2/05, Part 1

Apparently, according to the owner of my LCS, the truck with the rest of this week's comics has gotten lost. Therefore, expect another set of reviews within the next few days.

Villains United #2 (written by Gail Simone, art by Dale Eaglesham and Wade von Grawbadger) was a good second issue -- better than Day of Vengeance #2 in terms of explaining what had gone before. As the Secret Sixers wonder whether their leader is actually one of them (an element common to the previous groups), this group goes on its first mission. Naturally, there are complications, but Simone did surprise me with how the mission turned out. My biggest complaint was that the middle two pages weren't stapled in, so I'll have to be more careful with this issue in the future.

Jeph Loeb has hinted for the better part of a year about his final storyline being a devastating satire on the Avengers/Ultimates. With Superman/Batman #20 (art by Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines), that day is here, and sadly for Loeb I don't think it will reduce Quesada, Millar, or Bendis to fetal-position whimpering. Loeb does have some fun with narration, though. A Larry King-like talk show runs through much of the issue, informing readers about the "Maximums" and their role in an apparently alternate world. There's an alternate Superman and Batman too; and on top of that Bizarro and "Batzarro" (whose first-person narration is identical to his spoken dialogue -- now that was funny). The annoying dual-narration is back too, and I suppose it has to provide some counterpoint to the other techniques. However, it all seems rather broad and predictable, not to mention familiar (Warren Ellis took out an Avengers pastiche in The Authority, and Grant Morrison did a similar riff in JLA Classified); so I'm not sure what deeper message Loeb has beyond giving Marvel a black eye.

I had to look at the first page of Superman #218 (written by Mark Verheiden, drawn by Ed Benes) to make sure I hadn't already bought it. Note to DC: don't have two covers in a row (separated by two weeks, no less! Holy coin toss -- what dastardly fiend could be behind this?) where Supes uses heat vision on the reader. Anyway, this time around, Superman's public image is being tarnished not only by his failure in South America last issue, but also by a Discovery Channel-style "what if?" special speculating about the apocalyptic damage a runaway Kryptonian could cause. It's not a new plot, but Verheiden handles it well, and Benes does a fine job too.

Detective Comics #807 (written by David Lapham, with art by Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill) doesn't have much Batman in it. Instead, it focuses on the residents of a neighborhood Batman wants to infiltrate, who it seems have their own protector/enforcer. While careful observers will spot Batman before he's revealed, Lapham and Bachs have a good time with the locals in the meantime. Also included in this issue is the conclusion of "Regnum Defende," the Alfred short written by Scott Beatty and drawn by Jeff Parker. It goes a little out of its way to set up "Alfred Beagle's" real identity, considering that few fans today would recognize that bit of Bat-history -- but its open ending sounds like a promising future storyline.

Finally, there's Shanna The She-Devil #5 (by Frank Cho), which on its own was actually a good bit of silent storytelling. There is almost no plot beyond dinosaurs fighting and Shanna and Holy Buckets Guy coming in afterwards, but the former sets up the latter nicely. Still, it's not like this whole series hasn't set up how fricking dangerous carnivorous dinosaurs are to one schlub and his hot superhuman companion....
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