Monday, November 28, 2005

New comics 11/23/05

Apparently a shipping snafu delayed last week's comics two days, but we were having so much fun entertaining my parents over the holidays that I didn't get to the shop until today. Thus, here are very raw impressions of books which have probably already faded into distant memories.

I'm guessing Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #4 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Ryan Sook, inked by Mick Gray) is best appreciated in the contexts of both its preceding issues and the larger 7S project as a whole, because on its own its conclusion left me scratching my head. The art was good as always, there were some interesting attempts to break the fourth wall, and the banter between Zatanna and her sidekick was entertaining too. It just felt like overhearing the end of somebody else's conversation.

On the other hand, Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein #1 (written by Morrison, drawn by Doug Mahnke) was quite good, in the vein of vintage Swamp Thing or Sandman stories. Like those, it didn't spend much time on the hero, but focused instead on a Carrie-style magic-powered geek whose goal is revenge on his tormentors -- and who instead brings the monster's wrath on his head. It'll take me a couple more readings to get a feel for the monster's background, but gosh this was a good issue.

Maybe I'm feeling a bit more charitable now that it's a lame duck, but Batman: Gotham Knights #71 (written by A.J. Lieberman, pencilled by Al Barrionuevo, inked by Bit) wasn't too bad. Although the cover is completely misleading, once you get inside it's a decent caper story about Batman having to break into Arkham Asylum to save Alfred's life. The action scenes are the best part, because the rest has to wrap up an impenetrable plot about Hush creating a Clayface to both frame and kill Alfred, and those parts are either glossed over or sound like bad Gotham Central impersonations. Anyway, at least Lieberman has Batman acting like a human being for a few pages.

Flash #228 (written by Joey Cavalieri, pencilled by Val Semeiks, inked by Livesay) was okay. It's better than last issue, because it turns away from being another dark-alternate-future story, but then it brings in Nightwing, Cyborg, a locked-room mystery, and Dexter Myles, longtime curator of the Flash Museum. The scenes with Dexter are kind of sweet, if only because this is probably his first appearance in at least 15 years, but again, it's just marking time until the end of Infinite Crisis.

The best book of the week was Captain America #12 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Steve Epting and Michael Lark), in which Cap comes to grips with the identity of the Winter Soldier. As much as anyone can feel sorry for a fictional character, this issue made me feel for Cap. Meanwhile, Lukin puts the Cosmic Cube on the open market, with unexpected, but appropriate, results. As if that weren't enough, Brubaker and Lark throw in some zombies! What more could anyone ask?
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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Made By Me

Happy Thanksgiving!
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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Move over, Clapton

The new Superman Returns teaser trailer doesn't reveal a whole lot of plot, or even show a lot of characters (our hero, maybe Ma Kent, maybe Lois). Instead, it sets a tone which might best be described as "reverent." As the teaser shows a stunned crowd looking up in the sky, Marlon Brando intones "They can be a great people, Kal-El, if they wish to be." As Superman rises above the clouds, silhouetted by the sun, Brando continues, "They only lack the light to show them the way."

It's a very effective presentation, thanks in no small part to John Williams' epic "Planet Krypton." However, its effectiveness comes from its imagery of Superman being "above" humanity -- someone who, as a boy, learned to stop himself from falling, and indeed to leap high above the Kansas plains. Later, the trailer shows Superman taking off from a rooftop, and it concludes with Superman in space, looking down on the Earth like the Star Child at the end of 2001.

While I'm no film student, to me the trailer's emphasis on flight seeks to convey two aspects of Superman: freedom, as in Clark's childhood exultations; and also that "above"-ness. Combined, the message is "He can do whatever he wants" -- and the unspoken amendment of the message, alluded to in the last shot of Superman rocketing back to Earth, is that "he wants to help you."

The cover of All-Star Superman #1, showing a relaxed Superman sitting on a cloud high over Metropolis, conveys the same comfort. The rest of the issue brims with the kind of assurance that Grant Morrison had already summarized eight years before in JLA #1: "No sweat, kids, the crisis is over. The big guy's on the case." I wish I could remember the preamble of "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow," but from memory I believe it talks about "a man from the sky who did only good." Put them all together and Superman is more than the fatherly George Reeves, more than the big-brotherly Christopher Reeve, and certainly more than the superpowered pretty boys Dean Cain and Tom Welling. Right now, the trailer for the new movie paints Superman as God.

Clearly this is not a new idea. I'm not even sure it's a conscious idea, much of the time. However, it makes Superman unique among other superheroic icons. Batman represents the apex of human potential, and Wonder Woman an idealized female warrior. The major Marvel heroes represent different aspects of human behavior. Only Superman has developed into a paragon of moral virtue, whose strict adherence to such a code is as much a part of his portrayal as his powers are.

The flip side of this portrayal is the notion that Superman is so powerful, he's not interesting. One way to get around that is the current monthly books' route of challenge through emotional manipulation. The Superman Returns trailer exemplifies another way, and that is to define Superman through the perceptions of those around him. It's easier to do Superman-as-God the second way, because honestly, after a while the first way just ends up feeling forced.

Still, the second way results in a somewhat unknowable Superman, and that doesn't sit with the regular-guy picture of Clark. It fits better with the pre-Crisis model of a "Clark Kent" persona created and shaped by a being who knew at his core he was Kal-El. Under that way of thinking, Superman doesn't really make "human" mistakes, even as Clark -- he only makes mistakes resulting from approximations of human behavior.

That sounds a little extreme, doesn't it? Probably so, and I would argue that regardless of the era, Jonathan and Martha Kent deserve a lot of credit for shaping Clark into a more socialized being. Otherwise you get true "approximations of humanity" like Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan or Supreme Power's Hyperion.

That, I think, is the subconscious difference between Superman and various other omnipotent comic-book figures -- Superman relates to the public (and thus the reader), even as he hovers over them. If he is God, he's the God of miracle and wonder, not an Old Testament deity desiring sacrifice and dispensing retribution. In that light, Superman Returns' notion that the world has learned to live without him takes on an extra layer of significance.

Not that I expect the movie to be so deep, mind you; but based on the trailer, who knows?
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Sunday, November 20, 2005

New comics 11/16/05

The biggest compliment I can pay All-Star Superman #1 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely) is that it's the kind of Superman story people expect to read. Morrison and Quitely invest so much in making Superman likeable that the ending twist, which likely provides the spine of their 12-issue macro-arc, really carries an emotional kick. If you're reading this, odds are you at least have a passing interest in the book; so why haven't you gotten it yet?

Likewise, Batman and the Monster Men #1 (by Matt Wagner) begins what should be a fun retelling of the first Hugo Strange story from (I think) Detective Comics #37. It's dolled-up with the usual Year One additions of now-familiar Gotham gangsters, but its heart is with Batman fighting giants. As with All-Star Supes, Wagner has eleven more issues, and that's all to the good.

Two months late, Green Lantern #5 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ethan van Sciver, inked by Prentiss Rollins) concludes the Shark story from last issue, and begins a completely weird Black Hand arc. There's a lot of grue in this issue, and I'm not sure why. I think at some point we actually see one of Hal's armbones sticking out of his sleeve. Yes, I'm sure it would hurt to fight a giant mutated shark, but it never seemed to involve this much blood before, and it's not quite explained why it does this time. Van Sciver's art is a little too busy and intense for me, compared to the laid-back Carlos Pacheco; but at least Johns has some odd German-speaking gremlins wander through the proceedings, adding another layer of mystery.

Captain Atom: Armageddon #2 (written by Will Pfeifer, pencilled by Giuseppe Camuncoli, inked by Sandra Hope) finds Cap touring the WildStorm universe, trying to find a way back to DC-Earth. Along the way, he meets Majestic, who's already done that, but still can't help Cap. There's a lot of WildStorm history in this issue, which didn't really bother me, since the most I know about it comes from a 1997 JLA/WildCATS crossover. Along those lines, though, I get the feeling that this is a backdoor reintroduction of a few key WildStorm titles. Still, so far it doesn't feel too much like a marketing strategy, and I still like Cap enough to keep getting it.

Apparently, Hero Squared #3 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham) is the conclusion of a 4-part miniseries introducing the characters and leading into an ongoing series. That would be fine with me, although this issue doesn't really feel like the end of a story. Instead, it's more an exploration of the awkwardness which results from the interaction between normal people and their super-counterparts. I like it fine, even if it does tend to trade on Giffen and DeMatteis' old JLI schtick. Also, Abraham's art is good enough, but the proportions of Lord Caliginous' battle armor could really use some work.

This may be an obscure reference, but remember that Secret Origins Annual which revealed that Barry Allen, circa Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, was the bolt of lightning that hit him in Showcase #4? Apply that to Reed Richards and you've got Fantastic Four #532 (written by J. Michael Straczynski, pencilled by Mike McKone, inked by Andy Lanning). It's a nice story, but as an ending to an allegedly big cosmic saga it's kind of meh.

Not so The Thing #1 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Andrea DiVito, inked by Laura Villari), which was a lot of fun. Slott seems to be testing the hearts of Marvel's lawyers, as he has Ben Grimm dating Eva Longoria, going to a Martha Stewart party, and running afoul of Paris Hilton. The Thing isn't wacky like She-Hulk or blackly comic like GLA -- instead, it's just plain superheroics, done well. My one complaint is with the opening fight sequence, which took me a few tries to get all the perspectives right. However, that is a very minor quibble.
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Monday, November 14, 2005

Take Your Time

If the Chronicles of Narnia all get adapted for film the way The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe has, at some point the producers will have to decide the order in which to film them. If memory serves, the fifth book in the series, The Magician's Nephew, is a prequel taking place a few decades before LW&W. My recent editions of the Narnia books have been re-ordered, apparently in line with C.S. Lewis' wishes, so that Nephew is #1 and LW&W is #2.

Naturally this brings me to Star Wars, and the opportunity which exists now to watch all six movies in succession. The end of Revenge of the Sith is objectively a downer, but not really, because longtime fans are happy that at last it's time for the originals. Thus, the reversed order of the movies' releases makes it impossible for us today to gauge fully the intended emotional impact of Episode IV.

Of course I watched Episode IV not long after finishing ROTS, but I tried to see it through those hypothetical new eyes, which would be making connections from the point of view of the prequels. In that respect it does play out a little differently. At first everything is familiar: there are the droids, still on Bail Organa's starship, and there's Anakin/Vader, still in the suit; but hey! that must be Leia, all grown up! Spotting Jawas a few scenes later, the hypothetical viewer might then realize we're back on Tatooine, and so not far from our first glimpse of Luke.

Thus, Star Wars (the original, that is) still holds some surprises, and some key scenes gain a little weight. Regardless, the tone of Episodes IV-VI is significantly different, and I wonder how much time one should let pass between the end of Episode III and the beginning of Episode IV. Fans of the original trilogy brought 16 years' worth of expectations to their first viewing of The Phantom Menace. What sort of expectations will those hypothetical viewers of tomorrow bring to Episode IV, having been exposed first to the prequels?

Whatever those expectations are, it's fairly certain that they won't have twenty-some years to form -- or even the three years us old-schoolers spent stewing over the end of The Empire Strikes Back. I do think a bit of down time -- maybe a day, maybe a week -- might be in order, just to get one's imagination flowing about the next installment. It's nice that the six movies can now be watched over the course of one (very long) day, but I know from personal experience that four in a row is pretty taxing.

Back in 1998 the Kentucky Theater showed each of the Special Editions as Saturday matinees over three weeks. That worked out well, and was eminently appropriate considering the films' serial ancestry. Revenge of the Sith presents an extensive set of cliffhanger endings, with heroes in exile and twin suns setting on a galaxy in turmoil, but as convenient as it is to salve the hurt by popping the originals immediately into the DVD player, arguably that's not how they were intended to be viewed.

Today the end of Sith plays on the audience's memories of the originals. Future fans should allow themselves the time to imagine their own second trilogy, just as we imagined our own prequels.
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Sunday, November 13, 2005

New comics 11/9/05

I liked quite a few things about Infinite Crisis #2 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Phil Jiminez and George Perez, inked by Andy Lanning and Jerry Ordway), but I'd like to think the Perez cover (showing Power Girl from the rear) is a none-too-subtle dig at the fascination with PG's chest. Perez and Ordway's contribution to the interior consists of a few pages telling the history of the old Multiverse, and while some might say that's proof that the whole magilla is too complicated, I think it's a fine tip of the hat to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths artists and to COIE itself. As exposition goes, it's fairly economical too.

The spotlight is on Power Girl in issue #2, and speaking of exposition, I'm now glad I didn't spend the money on her JSA Classified origin issues. InfC #2 is the emotional payoff of the former arc's false starts, but it doesn't need those issues to work well. Power Girl might well have been better off consigned to Earth-2 oblivion, for all the mucking around with her backgrounds various writers have performed over the last twenty years, but Johns takes good advantage of her confusion.

The issue's other plots all work as well. I especially enjoyed the interlude with Clark and Lois at the Daily Planet, culminating in a neat little "job for Superman!" moment. As much as I love Perez's work, Jiminez has become a fine storyteller in his own right. I just wonder if there's not an Earth-2 homage to COIE #7 in Power Girl's future....

JLA #122 (written by Bob Harras, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Dan Green) is another "[MAIN CHARACTERS] vs. OMACs" story, just like half of DC's books from the past few months. I hope the number of these decreases after the events of Infinite Crisis #2. There's not much more to it than that, except the kind-of creative notion that the Key is attacking anything with the initials "JLA." (The Best Wife Ever is in the Junior League, so word of warning to the Key: they are tough.) It's nice to see some old familiar faces back in the fold, but I wish they had something more exciting to do.

Gotham Central #37 (written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Steve Lieber) is the big Infinite Crisis crossover issue, and I hate to say it, but it's not as good as I've come to expect. Sure, I like Allen and Montoya; sure, they react believably to the mystic carnage going on around them; and sure, this was probably a decent introduction to the characters for the hypothetical first-time reader -- but it just didn't have the punch of, say, the Poison Ivy one-off issue of a few months ago. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't as good as it has been. Good ending, though; and I do hope the Crisis completists pick up multiple copies, because the book deserves all the support it can get.

Action Comics #833 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Nelson and various others) begins what looks to be a fun little story pitting Supes against an old Justice League foe. It doesn't appear to have much to do with Infinite Crisis, so instead it's free to weave in scenes for Lois and Jimmy. I'm not saying who the villain is, because Simone takes her time in building up the revelation, and packs a lot into the first half of the issue. For that I was pleasantly surprised.

As the first part of "Blaze of Glory," Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #197 (written by Will Pfeifer, drawn by Chris Weston) also unloads a lot of plot. The story concerns a supervillain wannabe who blames Batman for his problems, which isn't overly original, but Pfeifer makes his antagonist a fairly smart guy who just happens to have wound up on the C-list. The one strange thing about the issue is the art. Weston's heads seem just a little too large (or the bodies a little too small), kind of like Mike Grell. Still, like Grell, once you get past that it's pretty good.

Finally, Star Wars: Empire #37 (written by Welles Hartley, pencilled by Davide Fabbri, inked by Christian Dalla Vecchia) continues "The Wrong Side Of The War" in fine fashion. As the Rebels put their undercover plans in motion, Imperial Lt. Sunber becomes acclimated to his new assignment. While Sunber takes on the alpha male in his barracks, though, the Rebels discover they may have to rescue all the slaves from Jabiim. Hartley portrays the Imperials as evil bureaucrats -- not so much mustache-twirling, but you can see they're not particularly nice. The art is also good, with bright colors (thanks again to Fabbri) and big, expansive layouts. Nothing groundbreaking, but a good Star Wars story nonetheless.
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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Devin Grayson's Nightwing: Worth the Search?

That's my question. Reading this interview with Ms. Grayson has made me curious about her run on the title, especially now that it's winding up. I don't dislike her work, and I thought her stints on The Titans and Gotham Knights were fairly decent. Like her, I am also a fan of the Bruce/Dick relationship. However, I haven't read Nightwing regularly, and don't really have an opinion on what she's done with the character, because I haven't really seen it reflected in other books. I do know a lot of people don't like it.

So, any recommendations on whether to start seeking out her back issues? Do you think I would like 'em? If so, where should I start, and what are the high and low points? I know the broad outline of the Tarantula arc, but should probably avoid spoilers beyond that.


P.S. New comics roundup probably coming tomorrow.
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Sunday, November 06, 2005

New comics 11/2/05

Apparently I missed Wonder Woman #222 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Cliff Richards, inked by Ray Snyder) last week. Not surprisingly, it's plugged into the rest of DC's crossover madness, but the bulk of the issue is a straightforward Wonder Woman/Cheetah fight. Despite being saddled with a bad case of the Eartha Kitts during her Legion of Doom tenure on "Super Friends," the Cheetah has historically been an interesting villain. George Perez revamped her as a maverick archaeologist who stumbled into an Edgar Rice Burroughs-esque pulp-fiction cat-god religion, and she went after Wonder Woman for (among other things) her magic lasso. Rucka revisits that, but also brings in a bit of the old "Wonder Woman is too perfect" jealousy which informed the character originally. In any event, it all meshes well with other current events surrounding Diana, and plays much better than the star-crossed Cheetah-Zoom team-up from the recent Flash crossover. The art is good enough, although some of the shading reminded me of woodcuts.

Superman #223 (written by Mark Verheiden, pencilled by Ed Benes and Marc Campos, inked by a platoon) is likewise a Superman/Supergirl/Blackrock fight, with Infinite Crisis implications. Basically Superman tries to teach Supergirl, who's been trained by Wonder Woman, not to cross the line into killing the way WW has. I like Supergirl as a concept well enough, but this Supergirl still hasn't emerged as a real person for me, and sadly this issue didn't do much to advance that.

Firestorm #19 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Rob Stull and Keith Champagne) is also an Infinite Crisis tie-in, but it inserts Firestorm into the proceedings with the happy-go-lucky style and charm this title has developed. Jason merges with a couple of fun "partners," and meets up again with Gehenna, the strange girl from a couple of issues back. Along the way Firehawk introduces him to the Outsiders and Donna "No New Hero Name, Evidently" Troy, who have recruited him for a big space mission evidently meant for Infinite Crisis #2. This book is DC's She-Hulk, showing just as much love of the superhero milieu without being so silly. (Not that silly is bad.)

Detective Comics #813 (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Ramon Bachs, inked by Nathan Massengill) presents the penultimate chapter of "City of Crime," and as a single installment it's pretty good. Lapham basically tells a straightforward story of Batman riding to the rescue, throwing in Robin, Gordon, the Batcopter, the Batmobile, and an omnipresent Bat-Signal. Batman also confronts the mind behind the conspiracy. In short, this issue brings everything to a boil for the big finish next month. Honestly, I realize this may be at best just an above-average Batman story in the whole scheme of things, but as I said it pushes a number of good buttons and helps remind me what I like about Batman. These days that's pretty good.

Opening Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer #1 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Yanick Paquette, inked by Michael Bair), I noticed two things right away, and they kept popping up the rest of the issue. Man, Bulleteer has a nice set of ... hair. Seriously, for a comic that explores the quasi-pornographic aspects of superhumanity, what's the message here? My guess is, we're all voyeurs, because check out our heroine's huge ... tracts of land! I did like the issue -- for the writing, too, perverts.

And then I read Captain Atom: Armageddon #1 (written by Will Pfeiffer, pencilled by Giuseppe Camuncoli, inked by Sandra Hope), about a guy also trapped in silver skin, and it was okay. I've followed Cap from his post-Crisis series through pretty much all his DC appearances, but once he was outed as a government agent, he lost a lot of what made him compelling. Now that his "man out of time" aspects have also been downplayed, he's just another indestructible guy who flies, shoots, and leaves. (Okay, maybe not "leaves," but you saw where I was going.) Anyway, I'm hoping that this miniseries, which once again makes Cap a fish out of water, will help spark the character. So far not bad, although no cheesecake. At least it's a good introduction to Cap.
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Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Week That Was

I don't know about you guys, but for me, it feels like I haven't posted since World War I. Not that I've had the chance -- it's been pretty busy around here....

Monday: First thing in the morning, drove to Richmond for a big new-lawyer swearing-in ceremony; passed out candy Monday night.

Tuesday: Turned 36; celebrated with the Revenge of the Sith DVD.

Wednesday: Started a new job; celebrated it (and my birthday, because the Best Wife Ever had a meeting Tuesday night) at a nice restaurant.

Thursday-Saturday: Tried to catch my breath from the first part of the week.

Don't worry, I have thoughts on last week's crop of comics, but it's getting late. Maybe tomorrow.
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