Thursday, March 29, 2007

New comics 3/28/07

Let's begin on a positive note: the art in Wonder Woman #6 (written by Jodi Picoult, pencilled by Drew Johnson, inked by Ray Snyder) was really good. Johnson and Snyder are, of course, holdovers from the Greg Rucka days, when they were similarly good. There are loads of background gags and little bits of business, including a mysterious pair of eyes in a bathroom mirror on the first page. The book looks great. If this is your first Wonder Woman comic in twenty years, it may even read pretty well. However, in the context of a) Diana having been in Patriarch's World for an even longer period of time (in the revised timeline); and b) the story's lead villainess having been prominently featured in the last storyline, doing pretty much the same thing, this book is a horribly frustrating experience. It's as if -- and I really hate to sound provincial, like "don't bring your city-fied ways out here, missy" -- Ms. Picoult thought she could write this book in her sleep. Actually, I blame editor Matt Idelson, who might have clued her into the story's big problems and given her a chance to either fix or finesse them. A decent story may yet come out of this arc, but for now it looks like a first cousin to the last one.

I hit the Dwayne McDuffie trifecta this week, with Action Comics #847 (drawn by Renato Guedes), Firestorm #34 (pencilled by Pop Mhan, inked by Rob Stull and Ron Randall), and Fantastic Four #544 (pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar). All were good, but I enjoyed FF #544 the most. Man, McDuffie continues to make silk purses out of the mess that Civil War made. I didn't know how Black Panther and Storm would fit into the group, but now I'm convinced. The first half of the book is housekeeping, and the second gets right into the cosmic. Pelletier and Magyar's art is livelier and more expressive than Mike McKone's, with some Kirbyesque flourishes and even a little Alan Davis influence. Fine work all around.

The Action story is a fill-in flashback framed with a sequence set in the middle of the current "Last Son" storyline. It tells a sweet, but somewhat by-the-numbers, story of Superman and Pa Kent going on a "fishing trip" into deep space, courtesy of a Kryptonian shuttlepod made by the Fortress of Solitude. (At this point I had to remind myself that the ancient Kryptonians were genetically incapable of leaving their home planet, and Kal-El didn't have that problem.) Art is good -- I like Renato Guedes pretty well -- although Pa looked beefier than normal. It's not a bad story, but it's nothing groundbreaking.

Firestorm continues the New Gods storyline in what I think the penultimate issue of the series. That means more fun with Mr. Miracle, Orion, and the Female Furies. Metron shows up too in an unexpected way. Everyone gets some good lines, including Metron (kind of like the Watcher's one-liner over in this week's FF). Art is nice and kinetic, appropriately so for an issue that's mostly fight scenes.

A different-looking set of some of the same Female Furies continues to appear in Hawkgirl #62 (written by Walt Simonson, drawn by Renato Arlem), as everyone takes on Giant Robot Hawkgirl. Honestly, this issue reminded me of a "Powerpuff Girls" episode, in both good and bad ways. It would have been a good Powerpuff episode. It's not really a good "straight" superhero comic. For one thing, the way to stop Giant Robot Hawkgirl turns out to be something that maybe the Furies should have thought of, and not Kendra, but she's the star, so she gets to use the brains, apparently. There's a lot about this book that I am willing to chalk up to Simonson's sense of goofy fun, but this issue went too far to the goofy.

Speaking of alien parasites that transform women, here's a twofer in Green Lantern #18 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn and colored by Daniel Acuna). The Star Sapphire seeks out Carol Ferris again, using her to attack Hal until it learns that Hal's now carrying a torch for Cowgirl. Leaving aside all the questionable messages about gender issues that the very idea of a maneating Star Sapphire raises, this was a fine-looking issue. Daniel Acuna has a distinctive style that serves the book fairly well, since it's pretty dependent on colors and a GL/SS fight is going to be pretty colorful. Hal looks about ten years younger than he should in spots, but I can live with that. As for the story ... I did like that once Carol was free of the Sapphire, she was actually helpful to Hal. Clearly Star Sapphire has a tremendous potential to be simply a repository of offensive female stereotypes, and while I think Geoff Johns is smart enough to avoid that, he also seems so wedded to the idea of "updating" the "traditions" associated with GL and his villains that he could make it much much worse. The "Sinestro Corps" backup story, drawn by Dave Gibbons, is a chilling little tale obviously in the mold of the more SF-oriented "Tales of the Green Lantern Corps" backups from the mid-1980s, and it's pretty successful.

52 #47 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Giuseppe Camuncoli, inks by Lorenzo Ruggiero) got back to the old familiar multiple-focus format, checking in on various Bat-people, Wonder Woman, Intergang, Animal Man, the Steels, and Will Magnus. The art is a little more idiosyncratic than the standard 52 style, but that's not so bad. Overall, the issue flows well, and it's fairly satisfying.

The one problem I had with Superman Confidential #4 (written by Darwyn Cooke, drawn by Tim Sale) was one of perception. When we left him last issue, Supes' powers were draining under the influence of some offstage Kryptonite, and this issue finds him on the wrong end of a beatdown, Superman Returns style. Eventually, the Kryptonite is removed, and we think that Supes is going to get some sweet payback -- but then, the rest of the issue concerns Jimmy Olsen getting him out of harm's way. Given the ending, it could be a plot point, but right now it seems like a plot hole. Beyond that, and the question about how "alive" the Kryptonite is, the issue is pretty good. Sale does a good job conveying Supes' pain, the villains' perfidy, and Jimmy's eagerness, and Cooke's script is fine.

Finally, I quite enjoyed Batman #664 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Andy Kubert, inked by Jesse Delperdang). It begins with a shameless James Bond (old-school, not Daniel Craig) parody designed solely to establish just how much cooler Bruce Wayne is. It uses a Little Nellie-style autogyro in a ski chase -- that's how Bondian it seeks to be. Once Bruce gets back to Gotham, an ordinary encounter with a pimp and some 'hos leads back to the Batman impersonator who shot the Joker in the face in Morrison's first issue. There are a few abrupt transitions in the issue, and it's not quite clear why Batman decides to question the pimp (just bored?), but the Kubert/Delperdang art, and Guy Major's colors, all looks fantastic. It may be this team's best issue yet, and it's starting to get into the '50s stuff I've been anticipating. Very cool.
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Thursday, March 22, 2007

New comics 3/21/07

Well, I'm done with Justice Society of America (#4 written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Dale Eaglesham, inked by Ruy Jose), although I'll have to get it through the Justice League crossover. The big throwdown involves Vandal Savage versus junior Wildcat Tom Bronson (shout-out? Probably not). Meanwhile, the rest of the Justice Society smacks down various Nazi villains in a much more perfunctory manner. I did like how Dale Eaglesham organized the issue, making lots of action fit and flow smoothly, but on the minus side, there wasn't a lot of life in the main JSA-team action scenes. I understand the emphasis on character over action, and the two significant action scenes -- the Wildcats vs. Savage, and another involving Liberty Belle and Damage -- are set up to make character points. However, the pacing of the entire arc has front-loaded the issues with foundational character moments, so that the big team moments are almost in the background. Finally, the JLA crossover and the old-school Legion subplot are teased, as are the introductions of two new members. This title therefore seems to have a lot of housekeeping to tend, and I am frankly not so much into its housekeeping.

Flash: Fastest Man Alive #10 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Paco Diaz, inked by Art Thibert) presents Part 2 of "Full Throttle," which wouldn't be a problem except last issue was the "Prologue," so you'd think this one would be Part 1. Anyway. Bart comes dangerously close to Mary-Suehood with his cracking of a legendarily unsolved LAPD case. Sure, Bart's got an unfair advantage being a superhero, but he doesn't seem to do anything a smart normal-speed detective couldn't have. Then Bart takes out the supervillain who did it, and Zoom too, in short order. The cliffhanger is pretty effective, though. The art is decent, although some of the figures are posed a little funny, like they're double-jointed. It's still an improvement over the previous regime.

I still want to read the whole thing, because I'm not sure what exactly happened, but I ended up liking Omega Men #6 (written by Andersen Gabrych, drawn by Henry Flint). Tigorr and Vril Dox are the stars of the show, and Flint's art is dynamic and ... full-to-burstin', for lack of a better term. It's not messy, it's unconventional, but it works.

Part 2 of the Stuart Moore/Andy Clarke siege of Wayne Tower in Detective Comics #830 was pretty good. The eventual Batman reveal was handled well. I didn't buy the drama associated with Robin's needing to blowtorch the trigger off his C4-encrusted shoulder, though. One could do worse than Moore and Clarke on a Batman story.

Birds Of Prey #104 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) was all kinds of fun. It recalls a couple of '90s comics, including the first BoP miniseries when Helena is hit upon in fancy dress by a charming rogue, and also a deathtrap from DC One Million (where the villain was Vandal Savage, also a Secret Six nemesis), but that's OK. The introduction of a Special Guest Bird (ha ha) was worth it. Best issue of BoP I've read lately, and that's saying something.

Was pleasantly surprised by 52 #46 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pat Olliffe, inked by Olliffe, Drew Geraci, and Rodney Ramos), because I thought Adam would make short work of the Oolong Island crew. Turns out I didn't give them -- or at least one of them -- enough credit. This was also the best "action" issue of 52 in a while, and yes, I know I armchair-quarterbacked the 52 theory of action last week. This was better, I think, because it was on a much smaller scale and also involved a lot of little character bits. The eBay scenes were great, marred only by the fake lorem ipsum language. Also, I know I don't comment on the origin-story backups, but I really enjoyed the Batman origin. Andy Kubert took a well-worn series of events and made them into a fresh set of evocative images.

I almost didn't buy Batman Confidential #4 (written by Andy Diggle, pencilled by Whilce Portacio, inked by Richard Friend) because I'm not getting that much out of the story, and now I'm really not sure why I continue. As it happens, this was a good issue, art included, except for two things: the first Batplane looks a little too advanced; and the ending seems to torpedo Luthor's post-revamp "bad guy behind the scenes" persona.

Bane goes out a little too easily in Checkmate #12 (written by Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilippis, and Christina Weir, pencilled by Steve Scott and Cliff Richards, inked by Nathan Massengill and Steve Bird), but other than that this was a fascinating issue, crystallizing a lot of political subplots and probably setting up John Ostrander's Suicide Squad revival. It kept me guessing, which was great. The art is the usual thick-lined, moody, kinda muddy style that this title uses to good effect. It's helped greatly by Santiago Arcas' colors, which brighten up as more information is revealed and get darker again when the issues get murkier. I really liked this comic.

I'm also cautiously optimistic about Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #50 (written by Tad Williams, pencilled by Shawn McManus, inked by Walden Wong). It's a new creative team dealing with some of the old subplots, but the first thing you notice (obviously) is the different artistic style. Instead of Butch Guice's more washed-out pencils (no pun intended), McManus and Wong combine for an almost cartoony effect which migh tnot be entirely realistic, but it makes characters easier to distinguish. Ironically, though, that doesn't apply at first to "Narwhal," the new villain introduced on the first page, because he looks a lot like Our Hero. I think he's also meant to remind us of Koryak, Orin's son from the Peter David days of the early '90s. Williams also gives us a new Topo, presented without reference to Aquaman's old octopus sidekick. Topo II is more cute comic-relief, I take it, but I was never a big Topo I scholar so I can't really evaluate that. Also, Tempest and Mera look to be a big part of the book now too. Basically, the current Aquaman gets introduced to the ruins of Atlantis, there's some talk about the fate of San Diego (a plot from the days when I didn't read the book) and Narwhal cuts a swath of destruction through the ruins. Pretty intriguing stuff, and it'll keep me around for a while.

Reading Army@Love #1 (written and pencilled by Rick Veitch, inked by Gary Erskine) was almost a novel experience, because it seems that I had pretty much forgotten the accoutrements of a Vertigo book. The last Vertigo book I read was American Virgin #4, about six months ago, maybe, so I was a little surprised at how new the line seemed. How was A@L itself? Not too bad, and pretty entertaining. I expected it to be over about seven pages before it was, and I was reading it while trying to watch "Friday Night Lights" so I might not have been paying as close attention as I should've, but it was still very good.

The Spirit #4 (by Darwyn Cooke) was another fine issue. I halfway expected it to be continued from last time, since #3 ended on something of a cliffhanger, but that's OK. #4 (re)introduces Silk Satin, surely an Eisner creation who's now a top-notch CIA agent. I love how everyone the Spirit encounters is so much better at their particular job than he is at his; or at least has that impression of themselves in relation to him. With Satin and the Spirit on the run from bad guys for most of the issue, the dynamics are somewhat similar to the news-anchor story from #1, but Cooke makes Satin different enough, and likeable enough, that it doesn't matter. Art is impeccable, as usual. I especially enjoyed the clever logo-centered two-page spread.

Finally, I can't believe it's here so soon after #1, but The Brave and the Bold #2 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek) is almost an improvement on what was a very good first issue. This time Green Lantern pairs with Supergirl, resulting in a sort-of-uncomfortable internal monologue about not succumbing to his primal urges vis-a-vis her nubile teenaged wiles. However, that even gets turned on its head in hilarious fashion. Perez and Wiacek really give their all this time, cramming even more detail into the backgrounds of the gambling planet Ventura. I made a point to look for Marvel's Grandmaster, one of the antagonists in the Perez-drawn JLA/Avengers, but didn't see anything, and that may be my only complaint.
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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Happy birthday to William Shatner, who turns 76 today!

Clearly my Shatner love comes from watching James T. Kirk all these years. I can’t bring myself to watch "Boston Legal," despite many well-meaning recommendations, because I have never gotten into the current Fat Elvis phase of Shatner’s career. (Also, "Boston Legal" has two strikes against it already because a) it is a lawyer show and b) I was over David E. Kelley by about 1999.)

As Kirk, Shatner was a great cheerleader for both "Star Trek" the show and Star Trek the way of life. It’s a cliché to say he made it look easy, but not only did he do that, he made it look fun. Kirk’s love for the Enterprise grew in large part out of its representation of his own youth, vigor, and station in life, and Shatner brought that love to life very naturally. Therefore, when Star Trek acknowledged its metafictional aspects in the Kirk-centered movies (including Star Trek Generations), Shatner let Kirk stand in for the fans in a way that the more “realistic” Modern Trek characters couldn’t. As Shatner grew old with Kirk, he made it okay for the fans to grow old with Kirk too.

Of course, that made his “get a life!” moments doubly effective, because here was the guy who had to look longingly at a blue screen and convince us was his beloved starship, telling the fans to grow the hell up. I can’t blame him, mind you; any actor so identified with a role must either really love it or really resent it after twenty years, and I’m glad Shatner found Denny Crane after years of just Kirk.

Still, I hope he’ll forgive me for my choosing to focus only on the one thing.

And at the risk of getting too geeky, with Leonard Nimoy's 76th coming up on Monday, I wonder if there shouldn't be a kind of President's Day-esque amalgamated holiday....
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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

New comics 3/14/07

We begin this week with 52 #45 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Chris Batista and Jamal Igle, inks by Rodney Ramos). It's Week Three of the Black Adam World Tour, and for all the people who complained about too much time spent on the Space Heroes storyline, I think the Black Adam story suffers from the same problem. It's marginally better because Black Adam going nuts can be justified as the most important thing that happened this week. However, it strikes me -- the guy who only yodels about comics, I freely admit -- that there's a right way and a wrong way for 52 to present this.

The right way, I submit, is to take a step back and present this not quite clinically, but perhaps more through the reactions of various other countries, the Great Ten, Montoya, etc. In other words, everyone but Adam. That way, the implication of Adam's destructive rampage is arguably more powerful. Instead, 52 puts more focus on Adam, because we're supposed to feel sorry for him and his losses. Unfortunately, the nature of 52, plus the necessity of rehabilitating Adam as an anti-hero as opposed to just a straight-up villain, means that I for one did not find myself getting all that close to Adam over these past forty-odd weeks. Therefore, this issue left me kind of cold. Also, I thought the art was a little stiff, and that surprised me because I really like Jamal Igle and I usually like Chris Batista.

More carnage is on display in Tales of the Unexpected #6's Spectre story (written by David Lapham, drawn by Tom Mandrake), and it's all deliberately unsettling and frustrating. Diametrically opposed is the very witty Dr. 13 backup (written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang), in which I believe Azzarello recycles his Mount Rushmore Monster from "For Tomorrow." Oh my goodness, this is a fun story. When the Mount Rushmore Monster is used to poke fun at the 52 writers, that's comedy gold.

JLA Classified #36 (plotted by Dan Slott, scripted and pencilled by Dan Jurgens, finished by Steve Scott) presents yet more carnage in the service of an even dumber story. The whole alternative-timeline framework of the story needs to be handled pretty delicately in order to avoid it collapsing under its own weight, and here it's not. The internal rules are ultimately so haphazard that what should be an "aha!" moment ends up coming out of left field. Oh, and that's not even the worst part. Another key element hinges on Plastic Man impersonating a piece of furniture, as it were, but we don't know because the furniture isn't red and yellow. Jurgens and Scott are solid enough artists, but Jurgens' figures are very stiff and Scott's finishes add a lot of Image flourishes.

I want to like Wonder Woman #5 (written by Will Pfeifer, pencilled by Geraldo Borjes & Jean Diaz, inked by Wellington Diaz), because its heart is in the right place, but it just doesn't make a lot of sense. It tries to use WW's traditional inspirational role as the basis for a series of self-defense domestic violence stories, which makes sense, and it incorporates a super-guy's psychosexual issues, which is appropriate, but it doesn't bear too close scrutiny. It's fairly predictable; the art is decent; and like I say it tries hard, but it's a fill-in story that comes at possibly the worst possible time for a fill-in, ever.

Green Lantern Corps #10 (written and pencilled by Dave Gibbons, additional pencils by Patrick Gleason, inked by Gibbons and Christian Alamy) was a pretty darn good issue focusing on two GLs. Soranik Natu tries to practice guerilla medicine on Korugar, while Guy links up with two rookie GLs who end up not respecting his authority. Gibbons draws the Guy pages and Gleason and Alamy draw the Korugar scenes. For once I don't have a problem with Gleason and Alamy, and I continue to like Soranik Natu, so everybody's happy.

Finally, I know I am not the first to compare Superman #660 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Mike Manley and Bret Blevins) to an Astro City story, but I think it's appropriate. It's a good little "criminal with style and honor" tale about the Prankster teaching the value of presentation to a poseur supervillain. Superman's not in it a lot, but that's OK. I can't argue with Manley and Blevins, two artists who don't get enough work lately, maybe because they are working more in animation. Busiek is such a good fit for Superman.
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Saturday, March 10, 2007

New comics -- lots of 'em -- 2/28/07 and 3/7/07

Grab a snack -- this could take a while.

Wednesday was not only the day of "LA LA LA I HAVEN'T READ CAP #25 YET," it was capped off (sorry) with a massive stack of 18 floppies, to go with the 7 issues I haven't gotten to from last week. (Three of yesterday's buys were delayed from last week, so that contributed.) I like comics a whole lot, but I can't take too many more Wednesdays like that.


The last week of February featured two themes, with the first being the New Gods. Hawkgirl #61 (written by Walt Simonson, drawn by Renato Arlem) picks up with the Apokoliptian gizmo (actually, a "gizmoid") that found its way to the St. Roch museum last issue. This time it's attracted the attention of the Female Furies. The Furies fight Hawkgirl for it, but it has ideas of its own and ... I'm not quite sure what happens, but a robot Hawkgirl wings away from a pile of unconscious superwomen, including Kendra. In subplot news, there's the usual workplace banter, and Hawkgirl gets a new set of shootin' irons (which don't do her much good, because: robot.) I'm not quite sure how to feel about this series, because on the one hand, I really liked Simonson's work on the Fourth World in Orion, but it was full of grandeur and pomp, and this is more irreverent. It's nicely done, but still. Also, this looks like a more sexx-ay version of the Female Furies than I'm used to, and it kind of reduces their appeal somewhat. I'm not saying that ugly = evil by any means, but the old-style Furies looked terrifying, and that was the point. These new ones ... eh. Arlem's art is fine, except for the ending, where first it's not clear how Robot Hawkgirl comes out of Human Hawkgirl (and that may be intentional) and then it's not clear whether Robot Hawkgirl is supposed to be human-sized or gigantic. (Maybe a callback to 52?)

Darkseid's uncle Steppenwolf fights Bart in Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #9 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Ron Adrian, inked by Art Thibert), and that's pretty exclting, if a little generic, but most of the issue is concerned with Marc Guggenheim genuflecting towards the fans and basically trying to make his script as charming as possible. Combined with Adrian and Thibert's simple, straightforward art -- a lot less busy than Ken Lashley, but not as good as the Karl Kerschl fill-in from a few issues back -- the issue works pretty well. I'm still not convinced that DC needed to replace Wally with Bart, but this issue makes Bart a lot less unappealing than he was last time.

Because last week was also apparently Dan Jurgens Week, he provides the layouts for Firestorm #33 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Ken Lashley, inked by Rob Stull). As you might guess from the cover, most of the issue is a fight involving Orion, Firestorm, Mr. Miracle, and the Female Furies. I should point out that this is the Seven Soldiers Mr. Miracle, but the traditional versions of Orion and the Furies, and yes, the Furies look a lot scarier here. McDuffie writes some very witty banter between Shilo and Firestorm, and gives each his own clever introductory sequence. The Firestorm/Orion fight is also entertaining. Art is a little more severe than it has been, with the combination of Jurgens/Lashley/Stull being reminiscent of '80s Firestorm artist Tom Grindberg -- lots of slashy lines and "shiny" inks. Still, Jurgens is a good storyteller, so that helps. All in all a good issue, and a nice way to start the series' final arc.

Jurgens also lays out 52 #43 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, finishes by Norm Rapmund), the first part of the two-week How Tragic, Black Adam's Evil Again arc. Also, Buddy Baker finds out he can mimic Sun-Eaters, which apparently doesn't come with their craving for, you know, suns. More on Black Adam later.

Jurgens does most of the work in JLA Classified #35 (co-written by Dan Slott, inked by Al Milgrom), the part of the Red King's plan that works out the best for him. This means, to quote Dave Campbell, it's an Alternate Universe Where Everyone Dies. It doesn't seem necessary to show the grisly deaths of the Justice League, so I'm giving this particular issue a thumbs-down, but maybe the conclusion will justify its existence.

In non-Dan Jurgens, non-New Gods comics, Hal defeats Amon Sur and the Sinestro Corps makes its triumphant appearance in Green Lantern #17 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ivan Reis, inked by Oclair Albert). It got me thinking, though: Amon did have a point about Hal just burying Abin Sur under a mountain. Hal doesn't have the best reputation for tactfulness, so now maybe he can start atoning for his past misdeeds? "My Name Is Hal," coming soon....

Also, the Batman scene was pretty funny.

I liked Action Comics #846 (written by Johns and Richard Donner, drawn by Adam Kubert) because it aimed only to show the Phantom Zone villains' devastating first strike at Superman. It left me wanting to see the next issue, which is job one for any serial installment. I'm still not sold on the arc as a whole, but this issue was pretty good.

We close out February with Hero Squared #5 (breakdowns by Keith Giffen, script by J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham), in which Captain Valor and Milo swap personalities, so to speak -- Milo explores his inner hero, and Valor continues to mope. Milo has a funny scene with Caliginous too. I continue to like this series, but I get the feeling we've been going over this ground for a few issues now, and five issues in, it's time to find the plot and stick with it.


Okay, here we go. I'm just going to try and knock these out.

52 #44: I know a few other bloggers have said it, but 52 doesn't do action well. It can make the case for a couple of weeks of all-action issues like #43 and #44, but it works best portraying slice-of-life snippets, because the action stuff makes you ask, "is this the most important thing that happened this week?" I don't think we needed to go into detail about something that has been foreshadowed pretty heavily ever since Isis was introduced, especially because her last bit of advice seems to contradict a lot of what she's espoused previously. Also, I wasn't too fond of the fight storytelling, not least because the Four Horsemen have a lot of parts that aren't easily recognizable, such that seeing only parts of them makes it hard for me to orient myself within the panel.

(The All New) Atom #9: Ryan Choi goes back home for "Sometimes They Come Back." It's pretty familiar: undead bullies are just as intimidating as regular bullies, yadda yadda yadda. The revelations about his old girlfriend are interesting, but we'll see next issue if they lead to anything more. This title seems to work better with the more science-y stuff.

The Authority #2: Now that the story of Ken, The Earth-Prime Submariner has given way to a more conventional superhero comic, our main cast has to adjust to life on Earth-Prime. I don't know if I'm on this book for the long haul -- I'm not that invested in the Authority, and this was a pretty unremarkable issue. Next issue might be fun, but who knows when that will be?

Batman Confidential #3: Still not making much of an impression.

Detective Comics #829: I'm resisting the Die Hard jokes (Die Battier? ... no) because this looks like a good fill-in from writer Stuart Moore. Bruce Wayne is trapped in Wayne Tower with dignitaries, and Robin has to do the costumed work. Andy Clarke's art is fine, although occasionally Bruce looks kind of doughy.

Justice League of America #6: The end of the Red Tornado story (I thought it had one more issue to go) isn't so bad in terms of efficiency, but it does confirm that this is a Red Tornado story and not so much a Justice League story. Also, reader discretion is advised for scenes of extreme dismemberment. Not to mention just talking about dismemberment: I echo the blogger who wondered, do they practice sawing off Amazo's legs? (Do they use Buster the dummy?)

Manhunter #29: I'm pretty new to the series, but it seems like Kate doesn't get in the costume a whole lot. When she does at the end of this issue, it's pretty cool. This arc has been about the Special Guest Stars, though, with subplots about other D-list characters (Cameron Chase, Mark Shaw, Azrael; not that they're not cool), so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It feels like DC's She-Hulk, and that ain't bad.

Nightwing #130: Marv, you're starting to lose me. I kind-of understand the Bride and Groom relationship. However, maybe I'm not paying enough attention, but I don't quite understand how their victims are important to Nightwing. I did like the setpiece on the ferry, though.

Shazam! The Monster Society Of Evil #2: What a fun book this has turned out to be, and what a clever homage it presents to the original Mr. Mind story. If memory serves, he wasn't seen fully until well into the storyline, so assuming Jeff Smith sticks to that, his "big reveal" (so to speak) here should be pretty fun. Also, DC Direct, please make a Mary Marvel plush toy for me to give to my 4-year-old niece.

Supergirl and the Legion #27: The Ranzz brothers make up as Cosmic Boy and Brainiac 5 have an accident with their dimension doors. Basically, a lot goes wrong for the Legion this issue, and only a Dave Cockrum tribute can save them.

Superman/Batman #32: I think the best thing about this issue is the scary Batman it presents towards the end. Oh, and the obscure DC alien heroes (the Vanguard? Seriously?) that make cameos. Otherwise, I'm about done with this series.

Welcome To Tranquility #4: A decent issue, but I want to read 'em all to make sure I have everything straight.

Captain America #25: This would have worked a lot better without all the hype. As a Big Death Issue, it's hardly suspenseful. For one thing, there's no body (promises of an upcoming autopsy notwithstanding -- and why do you need an autopsy if it's pretty obvious how he died?). For another, the death is, as the Klingons say, without honor: he gets shot on the courthouse steps while unmasked and handcuffed. Superman died delivering a mortal blow to a monster on the front porch of the Daily Planet. I'm just saying, if you give that to the New York Times, it seems more permanent. That said, as Part 1 of a new Cap story, and as someone's introduction to the idea of Captain America, it's a good gateway book.

Criminal #5: I understand why this story had to end the way it did, and I appreciate a format that lets a story end this way, and it's all executed (ahem) very professionally, but right now it doesn't sit well. I'll have to read this one again too.

Planetary Brigade: Origins #2: The PB cartoon gives a couple of members a chance to reflect on the team's history, and it occurs to me that maybe I'm getting a little burned out on the Giffen/DeMatteis schtick-for-its-own-sake. It's still witty, but between this and Hero Squared, it's just kind of there.

Marvel 1602: Fantastic Four #5, Fantastic Four #543, Fantastic Four: The End #6: The 1602 miniseries ended in a flourish of cataclysm and incomprehensibility, the Alan Davis miniseries ended rather predictably (for all those who thought that we weren't done with the tragic events of #1), and the anniversary issue was good for its second and third stories. I like Mike McKone, but he's not the right artist for the book, and the bridge from Reed & Sue to T'Challa and Ororo is a rickety one.
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Friday, March 09, 2007

Is She Really Going Out With Him?

Here's the Lois Lane-centered follow-up to my earlier Clark Kent post.

In the traditional setup, Lois sees Superman as a perfect specimen of ... well, anything; and Clark is just some nebbish she works with. Back in the day, the stories tacitly affirmed her behavior, because why wouldn't she have gravitated towards Superman and brushed off Clark? Today she tends to look pretty superficial, which in turn gets countered with the notion that Superman must have seen something pretty special in her. That then might make her something of a trophy for him, so I'll try not to dwell on his perspective.

Just about every iteration has Clark deciding to become a reporter before he meets Lois. The Byrne origin changes the sequence, with Clark meeting Lois first (while saving the shuttle) and then getting the Daily Planet gig; but even then I don’t think Byrne had Lois being the reason Clark works specifically at the Planet. That would be creepy. Besides, the point of "Clark" is not to get closer to Lois, it's to hide Superman. Getting close to Lois is just a bonus. The irony is that Clark can't get too close, or Lois might catch on -- so Clark's job is to stay unobtrusive. We know what Lois sees in Superman, so the question then becomes, "what would Lois see in Clark?"

In this respect, I think Superman Returns might have artificially distorted the traditional Clark/Lois dynamic, producing atypical, but understandable, results. In the first two Christopher Reeve movies, Lois and Clark aren’t all that close, not even by the time of their Niagara Falls trip in Superman II.

Movie Lois’ indifference to Clark is played mostly for laughs. Oh sure, she’s worried about him when she thinks the mugger’s shot him, but the rest of the time, zip. When, on the terrace with Superman, she mentions Clark, Superman asks "Is that your boyfriend...?" and she responds, "Oh, no, he’s nothing." Accordingly, Superman eclipses Clark completely, just as he hopes -- good news for the secret identity! They work together for a couple of years, at most (i.e., the time between movies), but Lois is also interacting with Superman, and Superman definitely leaves a bigger impression ... uh, so to speak. Giving birth to their child can’t help but remind her of him, and the fact that he’s not there. (I didn’t read the "Lois" installment of the Superman Returns comics, so I don’t know how much it might have addressed this.)

So when Superman and Clark both come back into her life, naturally she focuses on Superman, because he’s made the biggest difference. Clark’s just some guy. We’ve all known someone, whether at work or school, who we see every day, to whom we are friendly and vice versa, but whose 5-year trip to Outer Mongolia wouldn’t make a ripple in our daily lives. That’s Clark to Lois in the Reeve/Donner/Singerverse.

In the comics, and even on "Lois & Clark," the week-to-week schedule can show the relationship(s) growing and developing. This was the approach when they started dating in the late '80s and early '90s (they got engaged in late 1990, and he "came out" to her in early '91). Otherwise, a static take on the triangle just reinforces the extremes of Lois cuckoo for Superman and just friendly to Clark. Therefore, when no gradual development is (or can be) shown, it's not unreasonable to think that Lois sees very little in Clark beyond the stereotypical nice guy, and we all know where nice guys finish.

Also, Movie Lois' indifference sets up her learning the secret in Superman II. In the original release, Lois' suspicions appear to be quashed, but dumb luck intervenes and Clark falls into a fireplace. She's vindicated, but her still-fresh humiliation takes some of the triumph out of it. Not so in the "Donner cut," where Lois shoots a freaked-out Clark and gets additional pwnage by revealing she was shooting blanks. In both instances Lois pursued Superman with an investigator's zeal, and doesn't look shallow or petty; but I think the Donner version lets her keep more of her dignity.

Speaking of which, one take on the relationship holds that, upon learning the truth, Lois should reject Clark/Superman for, essentially, lying to her all those years. In the Mad parody "Superduperman!", Bark Bent (right?) grovels along behind a completely oblivious Lois Pain, who calls him a creep; but when Superduperman tells Lois his secret at the end, she stuffs him in a trash can and stalks off: "Yer still a creep!" Again, without some development in the relationship, Superman/Clark continues to look like a tool for stringing Lois along.

Thus, it seems that for Lois and Clark to work as a couple, Lois must overcome her perceived superficiality in the reader/viewer’s eyes, and Clark must convince the reader/viewer that he’s not just making her look stupid. Again, the movies make Lois appealing through a few deft strokes (including pounding that champagne bottle on Perry’s desk, which facilitates Clark’s perfectly innocent line "Why would anyone want to make a total stranger look like a fool?"). We can see why Clark/Supes falls for Lois, because we like Lois ourselves. When she learns the truth in Superman II, I suppose she's already made peace with his secret identity, and therefore worked through the desire to reject him. It's similar to her being starstruck on the terrace in the first movie. She mentions Clark's dismissal of Superman as a figment of someone's imagination, like Peter Pan; and Superman replies, "Peter Pan flew with children, Lois, in a fairy tale." In other words, the revelation of Superman's secret is just another impossible thing to assimilate.

Therefore, his SR absence makes her less charitable towards him. She's dealt with you-know-what pretty well, and I would even say that their roles are reversed, with him caught off-guard and her in command of their relationship. I do think SR adopts the notion that their relationship is the bellwether for his relationship with humanity at large. Accordingly, by the end, he’s comfortable enough to assure her (and us) that he’s not going anywhere.

Of course, this brings up the reason he left in the first place; namely, to verify that Krypton is, like Generalissimo Francisco Franco, still dead. When he left, apparently he was confident enough that their relationship could survive, and there was also the possibility that he'd find more Kryptonians. (They'd likely be good Kryptonians, because they wouldn't be in the Phantom Zone.) Discovering a completely dead Krypton was one thing, but coming back to a significantly changed Earth (personified by Lois) was a double whammy.

Getting back to Superman's point of view for a bit, though, there is a strong thread running through all the iterations that Superman not only feels a responsibility to use his powers, he has a need to use them. Superman needs to be able to relate to Lois not just because she represents humanity, but also because he doesn't know how to relate to her solely as "normal" Clark. (SR never really puts forth the Milhouse-like Jimmy Olsen as a substitute, which is both a missed opportunity for comedy gold and further support for my Lois theory.) In fact, one of the film’s most exultant moments is the Smallville flashback, where Young Clark apparently goes from simple super-leaps to actual flight. This is before Clark became responsible, of course (remember the first movie's "is a bird showing off when it flies?"), and also before he meets Lois. I don't know if there is much of a connection, but perhaps she does inspire him to be more responsible. She probably does now, at any rate.

Today, with the two married and Lois fully able to participate in Clark's life, it seems like the relationship is as healthy as it's going to get. Not only is the marriage the product of a steady progression of stories, the characters' relationships don't have to deal with the artifice of a "fictionalized" Clark Kent. Having Clark be the real person and Superman the persona makes it easier for Lois to relate to both of them, because it's less of a learning curve. Not that Lois is an idiot, but her Earth-1 and movie counterparts had to deal with a Superman a lot more steeped in Kryptonian culture than the current version (at least so far). Both the Alan Moore Supreme stories and Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman gave Superman a big home-court advantage, to an almost sinister degree, and this tended to keep Lois off-balance whenever she visited the Fortress of Solitude or got too involved in the Kryptonian side of things.

In other words, if Clark is the disguise, it seems like a Lois who learns the secret has a lot more issues to work through in order to have a healthy relationship. That Lois can have a pretty normal relationship with Superman, because Superman is a purer expression of Kal-El's true nature than Clark is (and, of course, she still has to come to terms with having a relationship with Kal-El). However, making Superman the disguise and Clark the "real person" seems more conducive to a relationship with Lois, because falling in love with Clark should make it easier for her to understand his role as Superman.

It probably didn't hurt that the early days of the Byrne/Wolfman reboot saw Lois and Clark both pursuing, and pursued by, other people. Clark went on a few dates with Cat Grant and had that brief infatuation with Wonder Woman. Meanwhile, Lois' relationship with Luthor was in its last throes, after which she dated Jose "Gangbuster" Delgado for a little while. (Personally, my favorite Lois/non-Kryptonian relationship is the all-too-short fling Animated Lois had with Animated Bruce Wayne....)

However, it seems like we fans can either have Clark-the-disguise or a well-adjusted, full-disclosure Lois & Clark, but not both. I'm still not sure which I'd prefer. Probably the latter, because I think it makes everyone look a little better, but I still have a lot of affection for the old Clark.
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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Play Misty For Superboy

Thanks to Scans Daily and Superman Through The Ages, I have now read "Don't Call Me Superboy!", surely one of the most disturbing tales of super-adolescence ever published.

The story introduces us to Misty, Clark's first love and the first woman with whom he spends the night. (Hilariously, the Kents fill in Clark's alibi for him, figuring he was on patrol somewhere.) I really don't want to say too much about it, a) because many of you have no doubt read it too; and b) it's just so wrong.

However, I do agree with the Scans Daily commenters who want to see it adapted for "Smallville." I wonder how it compares to the episode where Clark goes to Las Vegas and gets married.
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