Sunday, September 24, 2006

New comics 9/21/06

The homage to a classic Detective cover convinced me to pick up Birds Of Prey #98 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by James Raiz, inked by Robin Riggs). For "Part 3" of a story, it feels a lot like a Part 1, and that's good for us returning readers. Some ice-queen assassin gets out of jail and proves her badassery pretty quickly; meanwhile, Black Canary, Oracle, and Huntress (a trio that always seems TV-mandated to me) have to deal with two new characters -- a precocious little girl and a [SPOILER!] superpowered teenager with a Batgirl fixation.

I rather liked it, except for a couple of technical details. First, early in the first Babs/Dinah/Helena scene, an unattributed narrative caption made me a) hunt for the speaker, assuming she were in the scene; and b) wonder whether a good old-fashioned thought balloon might not have been clearer. Indeed, if anyone could rock the humble thought balloon back into fashion, I'm sure Ms. Simone would be at the top of the list. The other thing happens towards the end of the BC/Batgirl fight, when someone wearing a yellow glove punches someone else about fifty feet. Context indicates it's probably BC punching Batgirl, which doesn't make much sense by itself; but Batgirl's got the powers and the yellow gloves. Anyway, I'm coming back next month.

To me, the big reveal about the Emerald Eye in 52 #20 (written by the Four Tops, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Chris Batista, inks by Ruy Jose) came off a bit bluntly. It's basically a sight gag, so repeating it just feels like Jay Leno milking a punchline. As for the Supernova and Steel scenes, honestly I had to keep reminding myself they were even in the issue. With no omniscient narrator -- and, in fact, no narration at all except Montoya's internal monologue, which I think has also faded away -- it's hard to connect the three disparate story threads. However, I don't think that's the point. If there were an omniscient narrator, I think it would sound something like the bratty kid my sister and I babysat one night with Back to the Future. He and I had seen the movie, but my sister hadn't, so the first 20 minutes was filled with him exclaiming "Okay, remember that tree! Remember that truck! Remember the clock!" By contrast, 52 clearly wants to be more subtle, so at the very least we are subliminally reminded of Supernova in the Batcave and Steel getting slowly back into the superhero game.

I was well into Superman #656 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesus Merino) when I started to sympathize with the super-beast trying to beat the tar out of our hero. Sure, he was an unstoppable violence factory, but it wasn't his fault. Therefore, I suppose it would be an inversion of my expectations for Subjekt-17 to turn out irredeemable, after all, and not some familiar type of "there is honor in you, Kryptonian" space-gladiator. Superman's cognitive dissonance at having to take such a hard line with S-17 was also appropriate. Still, Superman speaks how many languages now; and can modulate his whistles to specific frequencies...? Oookay. Regardless, the story itself was fine, even if more of the fun parts were in flashback (giant trilobite! "Super-Boy!") Art was gorgeous, as usual.

If The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive (#4 written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, pencilled by Ken Lashley, inked by Walden Wong) is improving, it's gotten up to "adequate." Last issue's fill-in art was open and expressive, but now that we're back to Ken Lashley's overly busy pencils, the book feels cramped again. I did appreciate keeping the Rise And Fall Of "The Griffin" to pretty much this issue, even if his rise seemed a bit too quick and easy. The explanation of Bart's relationship with the Speed Force wasn't unexpected, and it feels almost like the setup that made sure Kyle Rayner was the only one who could channel Oan power. Overall, the book seems to be setting up a certain status quo for Bart to be the Flash. If that's the case, I won't stay with this title for much longer, because so far nobody's convinced me that Bart's adventures are worth my $2.99 every month. However, if the "secret of the Speed Force" ends up empowering additional speedsters, or even bringing some back, I'd be more interested in that. I'm still not sure the "don't get used to the first Flash you see" thing has played itself out yet.

Finally, yes, Nextwave (#8 written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) is love. Who wouldn't want to see Mindless Ones doing West Side Story routines? The satire, if that's how it was intended, maybe got a little thick once the Mindless Ones started shopping, dining, and watching "American Idol," but judging from the last page's captions, I think Ellis and Immonen know to keep the overt intellectualism in the background. Also, I started to feel a little sorry for Rorkannu once the Captain shoved his head in the toilet, but that's probably just me comparing him to Phil, The Prince Of Insufficient Light.
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Saturday, September 16, 2006

New Teen Titans #s 39-40 and Tales of the Teen Titans #s 41-44 and Annual #3: "The Judas Contract"

"The Judas Contract" tends to stick in my mind, and maybe in yours too, as a standalone epic. That may not be entirely accurate. It details the mechanics of Terra's betrayal, and throws in a few origins to boot. In that respect it’s a decent thriller with a nice chunk of Titans history. In the longer view, though, "TJC" and the three issues that precede it are about potential.

The plot of those first three issues is pretty simple. In The New Teen Titans #39 (February 1984), behind one of my all-time favorite covers, the Titans raid one of Brother Blood's outposts and learn he's planning to influence Congressional elections. Later, after a couple of scenes between Terra and Deathstroke that define their partnership (to say the least), Terra attends the meeting where her teammates finally reveal their secret identities to her. At that same meeting, Wally West retires from superheroics, and Dick Grayson retires from being Robin.

This doesn't stop the Titans (in The New Teen Titans #40 (March 1984)) from (once again) infiltrating Blood's headquarters and trying to stop his electioneering. However, the plan goes funny and a disguised Dick is mind-controlled by Blood into betraying his friends. In Tales of the Teen Titans #41 (April 1984), the Titans escape, mostly thanks to Terra, but are captured again, and Dick is trotted out again, only this time Blood wants him to throw the kill switch and he resists. By then, though, the president of Zandia has had it with Blood, and the Zandian army attacks Blood's headquarters. Blood once again appears to be martyred, and once again it looks like that's what his plan was all along.

We're not going to spend a lot of time on the Blood stuff, because (a) it covers much of the same ground as the introductory Blood arc, and (b) it has almost nothing to do with the underlying Terra story. I will point out that the first Blood arc saw Robin tortured by "The Confessor," which I thought was named after an old Joe Walsh song, and here Dick disguises himself as ... Joe Walsh. Somewhere there's a Glenn Frey joke struggling to get out....

Regardless, the Blood issues are something of a payoff for the Brotherhood of Evil/Zandia/Bethany Snow threads which had been given various shades of emphasis over the past year or so, and I can see how it fits into the series thus far. Even so, I get the feeling that it is more of Wolfman and Pérez winding up the subplots they'd begun over the book's first two years, clearing the decks for what's to come.

"The Judas Contract" itself has four parts. Part 1 (issue #42, May 1984) is told mostly from Tara's perspective, showing the reader how much she hates the Titans. Part 2 (#43, June 1984) is told in flashback, after Dick survives Deathstroke's attack and reconstructs how the other Titans were captured. Part 3 (#44, July 1984) gets into the origins of the Terminator, as told by his ex-wife Adeline; and also introduces Nightwing and Jericho. Part 4 (Annual #3, 1984) is the big finish, as the two "new" Titans rescue the others, Terra meets her fate, and the rest of Deathstroke's past is revealed.

[A brief note about the change in the book's title: if you don't know the history already, essentially it had to do with the launch of a second New Teen Titans book, and the change was just to avoid confusion. More later, when we get into those stories.]

In hindsight, the Terra storyline doesn’t try to fool the reader too much. Almost from the beginning, the Titans saw the holes in Tara’s backstory, but they never quite put all the pieces together. As shown by the Trident story, the group relied for its deductions pretty heavily on Robin, who was too distracted by his own personal issues to vet Tara in any meaningful way. Dick’s big detective moments in those prefatory arcs came in Annual #2, when he figured out Adrian Chase was still alive, and #38, when he tracked down Donna’s family.

Indeed, in the longer view, "Who Is Donna Troy?" works as a decent capper to thirteen months’ worth of subplots and drama. It’s not only a chance for Dick to relax and throw himself into a personally fulfilling case, it’s also a tantalizing look at what Dick might have uncovered if he’d put as much effort into Tara’s background.

Of course, this plays into the overall theme of "potential." Dick can’t investigate Tara because he’s been pulled in various directions for too long. The development of "Nightwing" thus allows Dick to concentrate more fully on leading the Titans. However, although Dick does put together the pieces of the Titans’ capture, it’s a little troubling that Adeline Wilson has to fill in the crucial factor of Terra’s betrayal. It’s a failure of imagination, perhaps; and perhaps also one that Dick’s harder-edged mentor would not have made. As of the Titans/Outsiders crossover, Batman hadn’t unmasked to his team yet. Still, that’s hindsight too, and probably not as accurate as we’d like to think.

It does illustrate the extent to which the Titans trusted Tara, even in light of her story’s holes. Indeed, as Tara points out, Raven tried to kill Kid Flash and the Brotherhood of Evil at various points in the recent past, and by extension might well have gone after the Titans themselves if Trigon’s nature had manifested itself any further.

Thus, Raven’s potential is pretty grim. Likewise, one of Starfire’s prominent traits has been her desire to cut loose and unleash her warrior spirit. The Titans have had to restrain her natural urges out of necessity, and she must now maximize her effectiveness within those limits. Cyborg tests his potential pretty explicitly in a workout scene in #42, trying to push his metal parts past their stated limits by developing what remains of his own muscles. Changeling’s potential manifests itself in his embryonic romance with Terra. (In fact, she encourages him in #42, saying "[the] only time anyone's better 'n you is when you let 'em be.") Wonder Girl has a similarly bright future with her fiance, but this arc sees her potential more as team leader. Even Deathstroke, the villain of the piece, draws his abilities from maximizing his brainpower.

That leaves the two Titans who depart the team in this arc, Kid Flash and Terra. Both are, arguably, the most powerful Titans -- Wally because, even slowed down, he still has all the powers of a Silver Age Flash; and Terra, because Wolfman and Pérez have given her almost limitless control over not just earth and rocks, but vulcanism too. Those extreme power levels are compared and contrasted, implicitly in Wally’s case and explicitly in Terra’s.

For Wally, his speed is the underlying reason behind his leaving the team -- he’s too powerful to be used effectively. He misses the simple life of being a college student in Blue Valley and hanging out with his girl Frances Kane (who also chooses not to use her own powers), but we know that he can travel between Manhattan and the Midwest in an eyeblink, without breaking a sweat. This says two things about Wally: first, his "I wish I were home" schtick is either short-sighted or disingenuous; and second, if he’s so fast, why isn’t he more effective in a fight?

Both of these issues are handled by Marv and George’s notion that Wally is losing his speed (something that will be explored in much more depth years later, in Wally’s solo series), making his decision to leave the team more of a practical matter than an emotional one. Regardless, the bottom line is that, in dramatic terms, Wally has great potential and is unwilling to explore it (again, see Baron, Messner-Loebs, and Waid on Flash); and in real-world terms, his potential is so great that exploiting it fully would overshadow the rest of the team. Either way, Wally has to go. (I still say he could have come back as Dick’s secret weapon for the big finish, but maybe in the animated movie....)

Terra’s great sin is not really her betrayal of the team, although that plays into it. Instead, it’s her choice to let her hatred control her, and thus to let the beneficial aspects of her powers go to waste. Wolfman writes a pretty fantastic eulogy for Terra on the last page of her life, and we'll get to that shortly. It stays just on the good side of florid and really drives home the point that Terra’s hatred should be met with pity.

One-dimensional though Terra’s motivations might be, she makes a fascinating foil for the Titans because she calls them on their b.s. Up to this point, the Titans had all been wearing deeper grooves in their own particular broken records:

-- "I am sick of Earth and its strange repressions! Also, I am becoming codependent on my boyfriend’s mood swings!"
-- "Strong emotions may aggravate my Trigon side!"
-- "I use mildly offensive humor to cover up my emo!"


Terra is also a (perhaps unintentional) parody of many Titans’ subplots. She has a connection to another DC hero, even if it’s just Geo-Force of the Outsiders. She has a Bad Father figure in Deathstroke. Her past is mysterious, like Donna’s used to be. Like Starfire and Raven, she has to control her antisocial impulses. In short, she’d be perfect for the team, except she can’t stand any of them and counts the minutes until she can unload all her frustrations in one (literal) eruption. Perhaps not surprisingly, she tends to pick the most fights with the most emotional characters (Kory, Raven, Gar), and she works pretty well with the others (Dick, whenever he’s around, Donna, Vic). To the extent she has an actual bond with a teammate (other than her faux-romance with Gar, for which there was surprisingly little buildup, at least in my re-reading), it’s with Wally, the guy who wants to leave. Some more connective dialogue between them would have been nice.

The Terra/Terminator scenes are pretty disturbing at first, with a Lolita-esque, tarted-up Tara implying heavily that he's been sleeping with a girl young enough to be too young for either of his sons. However, the training scene that follows is instructive. Deathstroke has taught her to explore the limits of her abilities, but as Terra starts to get more and more aggressive, thereby revealing ever-greater power levels, he starts to get worried, and our sympathies shift subtly to his side. Although Terra is, overall, the arc's protagonist, we never get inside her head like we do with him, to say nothing of the Titans.

The training scene establishes Terra as almost literally a force of nature, able to tip a balance of power decisively. It foreshadows not only a similar scene in #42 where Terra goes medieval on Changeling, but also her eventual demise. It ends with a telling exchange: Deathstroke suggests that Terra needs to go back to the Titans, and she replies, "Damn them, Terminator. They're sanctimonious do-gooders. I just wanna kill 'em all."

He deflects this with, "Ixnay on the makeup. Cute girl super-heroes aren't caught dead in it." Taking a drag on her cigarette, her eyes hooded by garish makeup, Terra fairly snarls, "Yeah. An' damn all cute girl super-heroes too!"

Deathstroke’s plan is layered with meaning. By bringing in the Titans, he fulfills his son Grant’s contract with the HIVE. You may remember Grant as the (original) Ravager, who was mad enough at the Titans for trashing his apartment and hastening the end of his dating Carol Sladky that he underwent HIVE super-soldier treatment after Deathstroke told them to shove it. Grant died fighting the Titans, as the super-soldier stuff burned out his body, and Deathstroke, blaming himself probably as much as the Titans, took over the contract. Thus, Deathstroke can’t help but be aware he’s sending another super-powered teenager after the Titans -- so why does it feel like Deathstroke, in the end, got played by Terra?

Maybe because Deathstroke gets a big spotlight, with his origin story spread over significant chunks of Parts 3 and 4. Basically, Slade Wilson and Adeline Kane were senior officers in the Army together, she a trainer and he her star pupil. After volunteering for, yes, secret military experiments, Slade's physical abilities improved dramatically, only stabilizing after the Army refused to take him back. Although Adeline thought he had turned to big-game hunting, he had already begun his Terminator career, with his first mission being to rescue his British colleague Wintergreen from the Viet Cong.

His other life caught up with the whole family when their younger son Joseph was kidnapped by "The Jackal" (Carlos?). Deathstroke rescued him, but not before the Jackal cut Joey's throat, severing his vocal cords. Furious, Adeline tried to shoot Slade in the head, but thanks to his superhuman reflexes, he only lost one eye.

More to the point, Slade tells Adeline (just before he loses the eye) that he's chosen his new life because "I haven't been a full person since the Army kicked me out. I needed something. Being the Terminator is it." See, he's maximizing his potential! His executions (his term; he also says they never compromise the national security of the U.S. -- and isn't that a storyline ready to be written today...?) are just the proverbial lemonade!

Additionally, it should be noted that Deathstroke takes out all of the Titans except Dick and Raven, and does it by subterfuge -- Cyborg gets trapped in an electrified chair, Donna and Gar are put to sleep, and Kory is zapped by a device that looks like a present. Deathstroke attacks Dick himself, and Terra defeats Raven one-on-one. This last was apparently a favor to Terra, who'd had it in for Raven I think since around #28. Deathstroke's tactics therefore prevented readers from having visceral reactions to four separate Titan fights, which could each have featured scenes like (in Annual #3) his chopping off Cyborg's hands. Deathstroke delivers the Titans to the HIVE whole, and (except for their captivity) unharmed.

Accordingly, when Terra sees that the captive Jericho is the same curly-haired blond kid from Slade's family pictures, and starts mocking Deathstroke in front of all the HIVErs, naturally the reader might feel a bit more sympathy for the mercenary than for the duplicitous Titan. We certainly haven't gotten into Terra's head as much as Deathstroke's. I don't think Deathstroke knows about Joey's Deadman-like powers, triggered by eye contact, but he can't help but look at his son's face ... and thus, the Titans are freed, by a Terminator again influenced by his son.

Let's return to Terra's potential for a bit, because another facet of it is at the heart of "The Judas Contract." Specifically, Terra' s potential as a Titan drives the story. I said earlier that Marv and George didn't try to put too much over on the reader, with more than a few Titans questioning Terra's background. It may be overly cynical, but the story counts on the reader's hope and faith that, under the accepted rules of heroic fantasy, Terra would have a last-minute epiphany and embrace the side of goodness and truth. Wolfman even says, in his introduction to the 1988 Judas Contract paperback, "I could [make Terra a 'louse'] because comic book convention would demand that readers ignore all the evidence and assume she was a good girl." Reinforcing the readers' (presumed) assumptions were the Titans, whose collective combination of naivete, trust, and distraction allowed them to take Terra into their hearts.

When the Titans are freed, Terra naturally doesn't understand that Jericho's controlling Deathstroke -- she thinks he's turned against her, and this is the last straw. Whatever barriers controlled her powers or her id vanish as Terra falls into madness, lashing out at the Titans and Deathstroke equally, and sounding at various points like a jilted lover and a sociopath. Finally, she disappears under a shower of boulders, accompanied by this narrative:

Her name is Tara Markov and she is little more than sixteen years old. And due to the fault of no one but herself, she is insane.

No one taught her to hate, yet she hates ... without cause, without reason.

No one taught her to destroy, yet she destroys ... with glee, with relish.

Don't look for reasons which do not exist -- plainly, Tara Markov is what she is. And she has taken a great power and made it as corrupt as she.

Hers was the power over the Earth itself. She could have brought life to deserts, heat to the frozen tundra, food to starving millions.

She could have dammed raging rivers and funneled water to lands parched, dry, and dead. Her powers were limited only by the mind which controlled them.

A mind which sought not hope ... not love ... not life ...

... but death.

And she found death. But not her enemies.'

Her own.

I've had my problems with Marv Wolfman's writing, but that's some darn fine comic-book prose. Annual #3 finishes with Tara's funeral, and Joe Wilson's thoughts of "tomorrow's hopes and dreams."

* * *

"The Judas Contract" also allowed Marv and George to remake the team in their own image. In his introduction to the 1988 paperback, P
érez observes that getting rid of Kid Flash and Robin gave them the freedom to do more with these characters. Indeed, Pérez calls Jericho an "artist's character," completely dependent on the artist to convey his thoughts through body language and sign language. (Pérez forbade Wolfman from using thought balloons, although if Jericho inhabited an unconscious body he could talk in its voice.)

As important a story as this was, it suffers somewhat in the art department from a variety of inkers who obscure P
érez's meticulous lines. Pérez inked himself in issue #39 and part of #40. Regular inker Romeo Tanghal inked the rest of #40 and all of #41. Dick Giordano inks #42 and parts of #43, 44, and the Annual, with Mike DeCarlo inking the rest. Giordano and DeCarlo both have fairly distinctive styles that tend to come through regardless of who they're inking, and neither of them overwhelm Pérez's pencils, but the change is noticeable, and for me it's always been a distraction.

Still, as with most of P
érez's "big" work, his layouts and figures carry the day. This page, from #42, reinforces the issue's theme of Tara spying on the Titans through her contact-lens cameras, and goes from Terra's eyes pleading, to a camera POV, to Raven's eyes accusing, to Deathstroke's.

The one complaint I have is with Starfire, who for some reason comes off throughout the arc as pouty (not in a good way) and whiny; for example, her panels in Dick's retirement scene, above. As I said with regard to the Trident story, in the duel of wits between Kory and Terra, I'm more on Terra's side, but the Titans are more on Starfire's. Really, though, she doesn't have much to do in this arc beyond pine after Dick and fly around blasting things. She's almost like a Powerpuff Girl gone horribly wrong ... but maybe I'm overstating my case.

I do like the original Nightwing design, but perhaps it too only looked good when pencilled by P
érez. (Okay, Scott McDaniel in "Nightwing: Year One," and maybe some others.) It's a nice blend of superhero and acrobat, which is appropriate, and it fits in with the Batman aesthetic without being associated too closely with it. I don't know if I like it better than the current version, which at times seems awfully generic, but it put in several useful years.

The Jericho costume ... yeah, I don't know. The muttonchops and curly hair make him look like Terry Long's kid brother. The color scheme isn't garish, but it's not subtle either -- aren't blue, white, and purple associated with Mardi Gras? Joey's powers are pretty cool, though, and the little "Contact!" captions that accompanied them are used to good dramatic effect. As for the name, I suppose a guy who turns immaterial so he can control other people's bodies might like "the walls come tumblin' down," but it seems to take a couple of steps to make that connection.

* * *

This was a pretty difficult essay to write, even after spotting the major themes and the big structural changes to the team, because "The Judas Contract" is a simple story with a lot going on under the surface. I didn't even have space to mention the cute ice-skating scene with Vic, Sarah Simms, and a punchline supplied by Changeling; the ominous portents surrounding Vic's grandparents, or the much scarier animal-skull helmet Brother Blood sports. Also, Gar is captured by licking drugged envelopes (he licks them, they don't lick him -- this isn't Grant Morrison), so if only Susan Ross had read Titans #43, she might be alive today. I'm sure I've forgotten other big aspects of this arc, but sheesh! this post is long enough.

"The Judas Contract" deserves to be remembered as the monumental payoff to some eighteen months' worth of serial superhero comics. It can be enjoyed on its own, but anyone who's "lived through it," so to speak, probably doesn't soon forget the experience.

Next: Payback ... against Bernadette Peters?
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Thursday, September 14, 2006

New comics 9/14/06

First let me say, regarding the mystery villain in Firestorm, The Nuclear Man (#29 written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne), that based on the last page of this issue, I Was Right. This gives me the distinct impression that Stuart Moore isn't so much recreating Firestorm for the 21st Century as revitalizing the best parts of the Gerry Conway/Pat Broderick/Rafael Kayanan Fury Of Firestorm from the early '80s. It's subtle, but it's there. Not a big fan of Martin Stein's hairdo, though; makes him look too grandmotherish. This issue makes me want to re-read all of the current series in preparation for the next one, and that's a good, geeky feeling to have.

Speaking of good, geeky feelings, here's Green Lantern #13 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ivan Reis, inked by Oclair Albert), a time capsule from the summer (aww, Superman Returns advertising! Don't feel bad, you did your best...) that, had it actually come out then, might be accused of stirring up bad vibes from Infinite Crisis. It still does that, but enough time has passed that it doesn't feel so blatant. Anyway, it's pretty entertaining. Reis packs a lot into his pages, and Oclair does his part to tidy everything up. Reis had a tendency in Rann-Thanagar War to fill each issue with a lot of background detail, so much so that it tended to distract from the action in the foreground. This story has a smaller scale, but there's still a lot going on in the fight scenes. The difference, I think, is both inking and coloring, so I'll give colorist Moose Baumann some credit too.

Anyway, this issue mostly resolves the Cyborg/Manhunters storyline (with a big, satisfying fight), but it also sets up subplots that will probably take months to play out. I'm not quite convinced that Hal and Arisia coupling up again is a good idea -- I wasn't convinced of that the first time -- but other than that I'm pretty happy with this book. Not counting 52, it's the only Geoff Johns book I still buy regularly, and I think it's because Johns is really interested in exploring the untapped potential of the Green Lantern Corps mythology that other writers never got around to. In particular, he seems to be going back to the Gerry Jones well of "what's the Guardians' real agenda?" Because he's picking up on old threads, abandoned during the Kyle years, it all feels more organic than it might have if he were forging a new direction of his own design. Not that he shouldn't do new things, but with this kind of series it's always appreciated (as with Firestorm) to use what's already there.

Boy, it was nice to see Dave Gibbons' pencils on a Green Lantern comic again. Green Lantern Corps #4 begins what should be a very fun all-Guy Gardner, all-Dave Gibbons (with inks by Mike Bair) story. Guy, on shore leave, is chased by Bolphunga the Unrelenting, a bounty hunter from the old GLC backup-story days (the Alan Moore story that introduced Mogo, in fact) who's just the kind of Groo-like over-the-top foe to make Guy look subtle by comparison. Interludes with other Lanterns show that Gibbons hasn't forgotten about the book's other characters, and their stories provide good character counterpoints to the main plot's action. Looking forward to the rest.

JLA Classified #27 (written by Howard Chaykin, pencilled by Killian Plunkett, inked by Tom Nguyen) presents Part 2 of "Secret History, Sacred Trust," and while it's produced about as well as Part 1 was, all the skullduggery gets a little confusing after a while. Still, Chaykin and company wrap things up in a way that drives home the main point of the plot, and his dialogue is sharp as ever, so I probably just have to pay more attention.

It hit me this week that for the past few issues, I haven't been paying much attention to the "Day ___" notations in 52 (#19 written by the Four Freshmen, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Pat Oliffe, inks by Drew Geraci). The Pope Lobo bits reminded me, perhaps only superficially, of Pope Cerebus (although Lobo might take his office more seriously), so that was fun. I wonder, though -- can Starfire not repair her top? (Not that it's a big deal.) Also, jeez, who knew Skeets was so devious? Oliffe and Geraci were a good team in their 52 debut, although Supernova looked a little younger and Wonder Girl a little more angular than normal. I can't remember which issue is supposed to be the big tipping point where everything speeds up exponentially, but it feels close.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #44 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Butch Guice) makes many old-school Aquaman connections, including Mera, Ocean Master, and a big clue about Orin of Atlantis. A recent Busiek interview spoiled that last bit for me, but the notion that this is all a big arc to unify the new and old casts makes me more interested to see where this is all going.

More old and new integration happens in Captain America #21 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting), a really pretty book that focuses on Cap and the Once and Future Bucky's efforts to stop the big Nazi robot from destroying London. This issue brings Bucky/the Winter Soldier one step closer to being a recurring member of Cap's supporting cast for the first time since the Big One, and I'm not sure such a thing could have been handled any better. Certainly, in the Dead Sidekick Returns Derby, Buck's more than a few lengths ahead of Jason Todd, and it looks like he's speeding up.

Finally, thanks to last week's vacation, I was able at last to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and it was so good only my new-comics budget stopped me from buying all the Escapist swag the LCS offered. I did, however, pick up The Escapists #s 1-3 (written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by various people), a sort-of sequel to the book wherein an aspiring comic-book writer with parental issues of his own uses his inheritance to buy the rights to the character. It has the same breezy optimism as the first part of the novel, which kind of undercuts some of the suspense -- you can't imagine too many bad things happening to our hero, considering what he goes through in the first half of #1, The romance between two main characters is also pretty easy to foresee, and I wonder if a sort of inverted change-up, mirroring the novel's triangle, is on the way. The book does use its "real comic" pages to good effect, putting the "real peoples'" words into the Escapist's and Luna Moth's mouths, and the artists play effectively not just with the comic-within-a-comic, but also the fact that you're reading a comic that's about a comic. Also, our hero sometimes looks around 15. Overall, it may be the 2010 to AAOK&C's 2001, but there were some good parts of 2010 too. I just want to know if K&C themselves capitalized on the Silver Age boom in superheroes....
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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New comics 8/30/06 and 9/7/06

... or, That'll Teach Me To Go On Vacation....

This past week was noteworthy for being the first time in a loooong time that I bought more Marvel than DC books. Considering I'm not participating in the Civil War hubbub, that's saying something.

Accordingly, let's begin with a couple of books that expose my ignorance of Marvel Universe minutiae, Agents of Atlas #s 1 and 2 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Leonard Kirk, inked by Kris Justice), and Beyond! #3 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Scott Kolins). For AoA, I remember Jimmy Woo pretty much only from Marvel's Godzilla book, and outside of Marvel Boy having his own Grant Morrison miniseries which, you guessed it, I never read, I hardly recognize any of these other characters. (Except for Dum Dum, but everybody knows him.) I'm intrigued by these issues, if only for the notion of Z-list characters somehow coming together into a formidable fighting force. I get the feeling that this is the attitude to which the Shadowpact aspires, but I like this book a lot more. Also, I've been a fan of Leonard Kirk's since his days on DC's Star Trek books.

I continue to enjoy Beyond! despite (again) no knowledge of Deathlok beyond the recent Dave Campbell profile. As far as the plot itself, I was a little disappointed by the big reveal at the end, and probably not as stunned as I would have been had I known who that Dobby-looking creature was.

Come to think of it, She-Hulk #11 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) falls into this category too. I was heartbroken by the "fate" of Awesome Andy (he came and he gave without taking), and I always like Rick Burchett, but once things started flashing back to Man-Wolf's weird alien connection, the little "??" balloons started popping up overhead. Is this how DC newbies feel all the time? Boy, I never knew you had it so bad....

And while we're on the "it was good, but I'm too stupid" theme, don't hold your breath waiting for me to extract deep profundities out of Solo #12 (by Brendan McCarthy et al.). I think I appreciated what he was trying to do, but I'll be dipped if I can tell you how he did it, or much about what it was.

Everybody loved All-Star Superman #5 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely) and I did too, so if you're not buying it, or waiting for the Absolute edition, or whatever, I don't care -- you shouldn't deny yourself any longer. Maybe the best part of the fine Summer Of Superman '06 is the rejuvenation of the regular books, at least as long as Kurt Busiek has anything to do with them. Action Comics #842 (written by Busiek and Fabien Nicieza, drawn by Pete Woods) presents Part 2 of the Manga Kha -- er, Auctioneer storyline, with Supes assembling a rag-tag bunch of misfits, plus Nightwing and Firestorm, to bring him down. I'm not as excited about the prospect of Richard Donner and Geoff Johns as the regular Action writers, because while they'll certainly bring the big events, I doubt they'll do it with as much wit and style as Busiek. To be fair, Busiek and Johns collaborated on the excellent "Up, Up And Away!," so I suppose the burden is on Johns to prove he wasn't riding Busiek's coattails.

End of digression. Mark Verheiden writes and Ethan Van Sciver draws Superman/Batman #29, Part 2 of a storyline which finds our heroes up against a shape-changing menace that tends to copy their friends. Green Lantern shows up too, which is a plus, although I got the feeling I was supposed to recognize the big pink bad guy. What is this, Beyond!? Anyway, Verheiden's story has been tighter so far than Jeph Loeb's epics, but he tends to rely on the kind of overheated exposition I thought Loeb would have taken with him.

JLA Classified #26 (written by Howard Chaykin, pencilled by Killian Plunkett, inked by Tom Nguyen) begins a new arc that finds the League embroiled in global politics, and didn't we just go through this with Gail Simone a few issues ago? I'm only kidding a little -- the plot is sufficiently different, focused more on the League's keeping a low profile, and it reads enough like Chaykin and enough like the JLA to make me, a fan of both, happy. Nguyen inked much of the Joe Kelly run on JLA, and Kelly did some political storylines, so that adds to the familiarity.

1602: Fantastick Four #1 (written by Peter David, pencilled by Pascal Alixe, inked by Livesay) will probably turn out to be pretty inconsequential, but for now it's kind of goofy fun. The Frightful Four are the villains, and a Doombot and some vulture-men show up too. A bit of initial misdirection works, but a later bit doesn't. There's a somewhat oblique reference to Ben Grimm's Blackbeard impersonation as well. Art reminded me of Keith Giffen circa 1990, and for the most part it was good, although I had trouble trying to figure out if a couple of minor characters were supposed to remind me of familiar Marvel folk. I think David's sense of humor is well-suited for this, so I'll give it a chance.

Giffen himself is on display, of course, in Hero Squared #3 (plotted by Giffen, scripted by J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham), another well-made issue that begins with a classic-Marvel parody and features an embarrassing fight between Milo and Valor at the funeral of the man Valor couldn't save in #1 (or was it last issue? can't remember). Abraham reminds me more and more of a cross between Kevin Maguire and Bart Sears, and given how Giffen and DeMatteis honed their comedy schtick, I wonder if that's an accident. Looking forward to #4, which promises more hitting, although I don't mind all the dialogue.

Detective Comics #823 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Joe Benitez, inked by Victor Llamas) presents a good, somewhat creepy, Poison Ivy story that positions itself as a fair-play mystery but really isn't. However, the twist is right out of an old EC horror book, or maybe a "Twilight Zone," and aside from my secret-identity-alert! radar going off whenever there's a fight in the Batcave, it was handled pretty well. Benitez and Llamas do a fine job with the art, which is somewhat in the Image thin-line cheesecake style (at least as far as Ivy is concerned) and still manages to make Batman look imposing and Robin look like a kid.

The best part of The (All-New) Atom #3 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Trevor Scott) was, as many others have noted, the "Sanity roll!" exclamation. Not that this hasn't been a fun book all along; and here it veers into the same kind of creepy territory as that Detective story. However, the presence of the big supervillain here makes me wonder about her timeline, given her prominence in another book's current storyline. I can't decide whether I like her better here or there, and I say that despite her being, shall we say, clothed in something less than unstable molecules.

Finally, we have 52 #s 17 and 18 (written by Jay, Barry, Wally, and Bart, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Chris Batista and Eddy Barrows, inked by Ruy Jose & Jack Jadson and Rob Stull). I still say reading this series is like keeping up with Time or Newsweek -- every issue is an infodump, and occasionally you get a fairly cohesive issue like #18 that focuses almost entirely on one story. Therefore, I liked #18 better, but maybe that's because it feels more like a "regular" comic. Also, #18 addresses the concerns I had about Montoya's actions at the royal wedding, which was nice.
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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tranquility Base

It was a good vacation. We'll try to go back before too long.

It's good to be back, too.
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Friday, September 01, 2006

Coming attractions

Those of you who have been enjoying the New Teen Titans recaps -- and belated thanks to When Fangirls Attack! for linking to a couple -- may be interested to know that I've been working on the Judas Contract essay and am highly motivated to head into the post-Perez era.

Unfortunately, those are still a little ways off. The Best Wife Ever and I are bugging out for a week, so normal service will resume sometime around September 10. However, I have a new Grumpy Old Fan column ready to go for Thursday, September 7.

See you then!
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