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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