Thursday, February 28, 2008

New comics 2/27/08

I think I understand what's going on in the current Batman storyline, and that scares me a little. However, issue #674 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea) was -- Bat-Mite channeling Hot Cylon No. 6 notwithstanding -- a great example of Morrison's take on the character.

Morrison writes a really entertaining Batman. He's super-capable without letting it go to his head. His inner monologue this issue, about how he spends all his time thinking of impossible scenarios and how to get out of them, captures the very heart of the character -- not just hitting the "Batman is a jerk" days of the '90s, but the Bat-Shark-Repellent camp era, the wacky '50s, and even back to 1939. In the seminal two-issue "Batman Vs. Werewolves and Vampires" storyline, adapted most recently by Matt Wagner in Batman and the Mad Monk, Batman's got the tools ready to make silver bullets. Silver bullets! "Always has a plan," indeed.

Anyway, Batman #674 tells the chilling story of the three alternate Batmen, and it too is an homage to "The Secret Star," a story from almost 600 issues prior (1953's issue #77). Everybody's trying to figure out what makes Batman tick, and Morrison evidently sees turning over all the old, forgotten stories as one of the best ways to do this. It's a well-executed high concept, and heck, it makes sense to me. Of course, I've got my trusty Batman Encyclopedia handy....

What else--? Daniel and Florea turn in a pretty good job. There are so many Batmen flying around that it can get a little confusing (look to the utility belts, for example), and their work is solid but not exceptional. They remind me of a cross between Dick Giordano and Andy Kubert. Also, for all the praise I've laid on Morrison's Batman, I have to point out that his Commissioner Gordon, and in fact the other Gotham cops, don't sound quite right. The cops sound very "Morrisonian," if that makes sense; and Morrison hasn't given Morrison the gruff edge we've grown accustomed to.

Next up is Rasl #1, by Jeff Smith. It's the story of a youngish (indeterminate-20s, probably) thief who can travel to alternate universes and who leaves the word "RASL" spray-painted as his calling card. This introductory issue has two tracks, the first with our anti-hero in disarray, wandering through a desert, and the second with him fleeing from his antagonists who've finally figured out how to track him. It's a lot of style and attitude, and it may read better collected, but it's designed to plant enough hooks to keep periodical readers coming back. Worked for me.

All-Star Batman & Robin #9 (written by Frank Miller, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams) is a strange, almost disjointed issue that spends its first half taunting Green Lantern like he's Elmer Fudd, and its second getting the Dynamic Duo to collapse in the pathos of their collective grief. It's certainly the most idiosyncratic take on Batman and Robin I've seen in a while, it makes them a formidable pair, and I'd like it a little better if it weren't done at the expense of just about everyone else in the book. That said, I thought the book did a credible job of switching moods, and the new one is certainly different enough to hold my interest.

The "Terror Titans" storyline begins in earnest in Teen Titans #56 (written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti and Julio Ferreira), and so far I'm getting a "Judas Contract" vibe off of it. This issue finds Kid Devil generally screwing up, and thus leaving himself open to being co-opted. I kinda figured out the plot shortly after KD's party got underway, but I thought the ending left some options open for him, character-wise, so overall I liked the issue. It fostered the right sense of dread that these kinds of storylines need. The art was, quite frankly, better than I have seen from Barrows, but some of that probably came from Palmiotti's inks and Rod Reis's colors.

It's not that I don't like the Legion arc in Action Comics (#862 written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal), but it does feel like it's gone on about an issue too long. This issue particularly seems concerned with spotlighting more Legionnaires, which is nice, but I'd also liked to have seen more movement towards re-yellowing Earth's Sun and restoring Superman's powers.

There's a neat visual gag in the middle of JLA Classified #53 (written by Roger Stern, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Mark Farmer), but it requires advanced geek knowledge (or does that go without saying?). See, this story apparently takes place in the days when Black Canary, and not Wonder Woman, was the League's pre-eminent female member. Furthermore, back then BC wore a blonde wig over her black hair. Therefore, when foe du jour Titus decides he's had enough of thoroughly pwning the League, and offers instead to make them part of his "pantheon," he dresses Black Canary in a very WW-inspired costume, and gets rid of her wig, so that she looks a lot like Wonder Woman. That's the most clever thing about the issue, which otherwise finds the League utterly bumfuzzled about how to stop this guy. As with the Action arc, next issue's the big finish, so I'm hoping it will elevate the story as a whole.

Speaking of endings, Crime Bible #5 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Manuel Garcia, inked by Garcia and Jimmy Palmiotti) finds the Question fighting the leader of the Cain sect for what he claims is leadership of said sect. Thus, the issue is an extended fight scene, which comes off fairly well -- Garcia and Palmiotti are fine storytellers, and the action isn't hard to follow. The problem is the ending, which leaves (you'll forgive me) a big question hanging. Ironically, part of the Question's dialogue during the fight references the end of Renee's previous series, Gotham Central, which went out on an ambiguous note so that it could lead into her transformation into the Question. Now Crime Bible seems to be doing the same thing. We kinda know how it should end, but it'd be nice if our suspicions were confirmed.

Lots of death and exploding in Countdown #9 (written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher). Derenick and Faucher portray this pretty well, albeit in a sort of DC-house-standard way. For an issue that concerns a bunch of superheroes trying to reunite with colleagues and get the heck off Apokolips, it's about as good as you'd think. A couple of old friends return, the cliffhangers are good, and who knew the Pied Piper had it in him?

Finally, Captain America #35 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Jackson Guice, inked by Guice and Mike Perkins) wasn't quite as good as last issue. The new Cap fights rioters, and especially those causing them to riot, in Washington, D.C. Given the character's symbolic nature, I was expecting the riot to contain an inspirational moment -- a "Look! Up in the sky!" moment, if you will -- but I guess that would have been something of a cheat, and not quite within Brubaker's downbeat tone. Perkins' inks do a lot to connect this issue visually to regular penciller Steve Epting's work, but Guice's storytelling is just as good. There's also a fair amount of plot, and Brubaker uses a good bit of the book's large cast. It's a middle-act issue which has me excited for the conclusion.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

New comics 2/20/08

The Brave and the Bold #10 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Scott Koblish) presents another time-hopping extravaganza for what has turned out to be Perez's last issue. After a prologue with the Challengers of the Unknown, Superman and the Silent Knight team up to fight a dragon and destroy a Megistus-related gizmo. In this story, Waid uses the Knight as a first-person narrator, but the narration isn't the usual hip-thought-balloon substitute. Instead, as a one-page montage of their travels demonstrates, the Knight is actually telling the story himself, thereby (at the risk of being redundant) narrating. So that was nice. The second half of the issue is a fun look at Aqualad through the eyes of the original Teen Titans, Aquaman, and Megistus himself. (The Big M alludes to the powers that the adult Garth will manifest as Tempest.) Set around Aquaman's wedding to Mera, it includes cameos by the Justice League and a neat set of jokes at the expense of Wonder Woman's earrings. Perez' work is, of course, great as always, and I'm sorry to see him go -- but as long as Waid and new penciller Jerry Ordway are on board, this will be one of DC's best titles.

I liked the big payoffs in Countdown #10 (written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, drawn by Scott Kolins), and it's probably not worth complaining about the time it took to get to them. Harley, Holly, and Mary fight what I presume is a fresh-baked batch of Female Furies, Karate Kid fights the OMAC-ed Una, and it looks like everyone will have to fight all of Apokolips before too long. You'd think that with two powerhouses, a Green Lantern, an ex-Atom, and an ex-Robin, that wouldn't be too hard, but there are still nine issues to go. Kolins' art was good, although a little stiff and sketchy, kind of like Ron Lim. The dialogue was serviceable, because it really didn't have much to do beyond get the characters from one beat to the next. Finally, Scott Beatty and Bruce Timm contribute the very fun two-page Origin Of Harley Quinn.

The Salvation Run-fueled storyline continues in Justice League of America #18 (written by Alan Burnett, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope), and it doesn't improve that much. Burnett uses those first-person narrative-caption boxes Meltzer-style, which is to say that they're connected to the narrator/thinker only by their colors. The main story is fifteen pages long, but two of those are a rump-tastic double-page spread and most of it is a bunch of exposition and posturing between the League and the Suicide Squad. It's the kind of thing that turns me off of crossovers, and considering I've stuck with Countdown this long, that's not an easy thing to do. The backup story, by Dwayne McDuffie, Jon Boy Meyers, and Mark Irwin, is a Red Tornado spotlight that doesn't have much to do with anything. It describes the shiny new body Reddy is getting, and is probably intended to make him more sympathetic, but it just kind of sits there. I'm not terribly familiar with the artists, whose work is reminiscent of Todd Nauck's.

Birds Of Prey #115 (written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) picks up with the Huntress and Lady Blackhawk tracking the old Blackhawk nemesis King Shark. Meanwhile, Oracle has to keep Misfit from killing Black Alice before BA can track down the magical menace who blew up a city block (and apparently killed Will & Grace) a couple issues back. This was a good issue, well-paced and fairly dialogue-driven. I expected the tension between Misfit and Black Alice to be a little wackier, given the cover, but Misfit comes across like a petulant kid ... which, of course, she is. I liked that McKeever was willing to take her there. Misfit is reminding me more of a non-psychopathic Tara Markov, and that's a good thing. Scott and Hazlewood turn in another fine issue, although I didn't quite get on the first pass the "lava burp" which downs the Blackhawk plane.

Yes, that's Superman in Checkmate #23 (written by Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson), and he's only part of the well-done first installment of "Castling." The deep-cover agent who's infiltrated Kobra sends out a desparate message, alerting Checkmate to a big threat on the horizon from the cult. The situation is so dire that only Superman can evac the agent, which he does in typical fashion. The highlight, though, is the relationship between Checkmate and Superman, which is a real pleasure to see portrayed. I liked this issue a whole lot. Bennett and Jadson's clean lines contrast well with Santiago Arcas' earthy color palette (Superman excepted, of course). Superman alludes to his previous dealings with a less charitable Checkmate, but ultimately he respects the current leadership and they respect the heck out of him. I'll hate to give this book up when Rucka and Trautmann leave in a couple of issues, but I don't see how too many writers could produce something this enjoyable.

Superman also appears in The Flash #237 (written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Koi Turnbull, inked by Art Thibert), as the Wests take a field trip to Metropolis. Wally procrastinates about job interviews by going on superhero missions, while Linda sends the kids on a scavenger hunt. I'm of two minds about the art: on one hand, it's certainly kinetic and expressive, which is appropriate for the book; but on the other, it's almost too busy. The story also seemed rather unfocused. The job-interview scenes were cute (apparently Wally still has a secret identity as far as the general public is concerned), and I liked Linda's interaction with Lois Lane, but I had a hard time keeping the Metropolis plot straight. Tom Peyer starts as writer next issue, so I'm looking forward to that.

Batman Confidential #13 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Mark Farmer) begins a new arc featuring The Wrath, a one-off villain from a 1980s Batman Special. Wrath's parents were criminals killed by a policeman -- James Gordon, in fact -- so his life takes an oddly familiar, yet twisted path. Now he's back, and killing policemen attending a Gotham police convention. This story takes place in the Disco Nightwing days (which makes me think Jason Todd should be around somewhere), so there's some tension between Dick and Bruce, and Leslie Thompkins is still in the picture too. I liked it pretty well -- Morales is a good storyteller, and I like Farmer inking him. I liked the cliffhanger, too.

I also liked Superman Confidential #12 (written by B. Clay Moore, pencilled by Phil Hester, inked by Ande Parks), almost more for the art than for the story. It's a fun start to an arc involving the origin of Jimmy Olsen's signal watch and the Toyman's giant killer robots. I've always liked Hester and Parks' thick-lined, "cartoony" style, though; and they suit this kind of light-hearted adventure very well.

Finally, The Spirit #14 introduces the new creative team of writers Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier, penciller Mike Ploog, and inker Mark Farmer, replacing writer/artist Darwyn Cooke. Their first issue is pretty entertaining -- a light murder mystery that didn't exactly play fair, but with a good sense of fun that carried it. Ploog and Farmer evoke Eisner's designs for the most part, although I thought their Spirit's jaw wasn't square enough and they didn't bring the same overall design schemes to the book that Cooke did.

So there you go. By the way, I still haven't gotten my scanner hooked up yet, but probably this week sometime.
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pal Joey: Tales of the Teen Titans #s 51-55

It's been a little over a year, but as promised, the New Teen Titans recaps continue!

This post, and the next one, will go over the first real lean period in the group's history. Although his last story is still in our future, George Perez had pretty much left the building (except for this last run of Tales' covers) in favor of Crisis On Infinite Earths. In fact, this particular title -- the renamed New Teen Titans Vol. 1, remember -- was winding down its original content, with eight original issues to go. Therefore, 50 decent-to-great issues out of 58 isn't chicken feed, but these last eight are kind of ... uneven.

So, with that ringing endorsement, are you excited yet?

Let's go!

Tales of the Teen Titans #51 (March 1985) kicks off the post-Perez era with a pretty good issue. The new art team of Rich Buckler and Mike DeCarlo (starting with #52; Bob Smith inked #51) are experienced enough to handle this kind of super-team soap opera, and it's especially appropriate since Perez succeeded Buckler as Fantastic Four penciller some ten years earlier.

Since we're picking up right after the Troy-Long nuptials, Donna is still honeymooning, and Lilith has replaced Raven, who's apparently off in Azarath. The issue opens with the Titans breaking up a weapons shipment which, we learn, was meant for the Quraci government. Quraci President Marlo then hires Cheshire to kidnap Jericho's mother Adeline Wilson. Seems that a) Addie, as a mercenary, helped bring Marlo to power; but b) she was a double agent working for the rival nation of Kyran. Now that c) Marlo has been thinking about invading Kyran, it's been discovered that d) Addie has apparently removed all the information on Kyran from the Quraci government's files. Also, e) Addie has a photographic memory and (Marlo says) knows a good bit about Kyran. Press coverage of the Titans has led the Quraci government to Joey, and from there to his mom.

New subplots include Lilith moving in with Kory (Lilith mentions not knowing her background, to which Kory replies "Unknown parents seems [sic] to be a problem in the Titans") and a mysterious spaceship being discovered in Alaska.

Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, Dick learns that Interpol and the CIA both want to question Joey and his mom, because like Qurac, they want the Kyranian defense secrets too. Unfortunately, the only person Dick can get ahold of is Gar, who's really not in the mood for another potential Titan traitor. Thus, Gar goes off half-cocked to work out more Terra-related frustrations on Joey, but arrives after the big Cheshire/Addie/Jericho fight. Joey doesn't have time to waste with Gar, and after taking him out, contacts Amber, another of his mom's colleagues.

Later, at Titans' Tower, Gar continues to rant about the danger Joey poses, leading to this exchange:

KORY: And I can't believe Joe would do anything bad. He's so warm and caring.

GAR: So was Hitler ... to Eva Braun.

Hitler?!? Who said anything about Hitler?

The discussion about Joey resumes briefly at the start of Tales #52 (April 1985), but the Titans are soon distracted by news from STAR Labs about the Alaska discovery. Putting the Jericho situation on his mental back-burner, Nightwing muses that maybe the Terminator's upcoming trial will give Gar and the rest of the group some closure over Terra's death. As you might expect, things don't go perfectly at STAR Labs, with the whatever-it-is heating up to ludicrous levels and blowing up its containment chamber. Cyborg and Lilith are caught in the blast, and Lilith is pinned to the wall by some mysterious energy. I'm tempted to say it's the Pure Love radiating from the winged amnesiac Adonis that Who's Who will call "Azrael," but I honestly don't know.

In Qurac, Jericho and Amber decide the best way to Addie is to make themselves as obvious as possible. Their plan works a little too well, as Cheshire shows up (seemingly out of nowhere, in a weird storytelling failure) to capture both of them. Addie talks, in order to protect Joey, and the three of them are all put in the same cell. They use Joey's powers to run a variation on the old "Hey, Where'd He Go?" routine (works every time!) and before too long, Amber's shooting up Marlo's palace with an automatic weapon. When she and Cheshire get into a gunfight in Marlo's art gallery, though, Amber suddenly starts throwing herself in front of the paintings, yelling "Art is forever! You can't let it die!" Turns out that Joey has been inhabiting her, which gives him the edge over Cheshire. Joey turns solid, knocks out Cheshire, and then chooses to save the paintings over killing the man who tortured his mother. Well, that makes perfec-- huh?

The Azrael story takes up the bulk of Tales #53 (May 1985), which also features the return of Wonder Girl and the start of Slade Wilson's trial. Jericho, Addie, and Amber are off-stage, being questioned by the CIA. (That didn't carry quite the same connotations back then....)

Basically, after Donna and Terry assert their tennis dominance over Dick and Kory, the Azrael plot blossoms into a "He's Not A Threat, He's My Destiny" situation involving Lilith. Her exposure to Azrael last issue has apparently given her heat-style energy powers, so she busts Azrael (still officially unnamed, by the way) out of STAR Labs. Afterwards, the team gathers at Slade's trial, where Nightwing and the kidnap victim from issue #34 will be witnesses. The defense strategy, bolstered by a mysterious Terminator attack on Lilith earlier that morning, is to show that anyone could have been behind the Terminator's full-face mask at the times in question. It's not as good a tactic as Wolfman thinks, considering that there must be a whole body of superhero-specific case law to handle these kinds of masked crimes, but it works to rattle Mr. Victim, so the issue ends with Slade in pretty good shape.

Naturally, because this particular subplot has been fueling the Misunderstood Gar Acts Stupid subplot of the past several months, Tales #54 (June 1985) opens with Gar, well, acting stupid: he starts a fight with Slade in the middle of the courtroom.

Now, I have very little experience with criminal cases, but I'd think that such a super-fight would have serious consequences for the state's case against an accused super-villain. Furthermore, in typical superhero-comic fashion, Gar tells Judge Adrian Chase that Slade killed him (back in issue #10) and corrupted Tara Markov; which, I'd think, would only compound the state's problems. However, the issue creates its own continuity messes on top of all that.

Remember how "The Judas Contract" ended with a fight in The HIVE's base in the Rocky Mountains? Well, now Cyborg tells Chase that the Titans were held captive in the undersea base which was actually the setting of the follow-up storyline. This gives the defense attorney an opening to argue for dismissal based on jurisdictional issues, since that base was outside the U.S. It's all for nothing, though, because the trial (or whatever it is) will apparently go on after a brief adjournment.

So the Titans (minus Gar) look up Wintergreen, Slade's version of Alfred, to see if he might have been the Terminator who attacked Lilith last issue. While they're there, though, the Terminator attacks them, but meets a fiery end in a boat hit by one of Starfire's blasts. Since the boat belonged to Gar's foster father, and Gar thought "they bought it!" after he left the courtroom, it looks pretty obvious that Gar's been working to ensure Slade's freedom.

New subplot this issue: STAR Labs can give Cyborg plastic replacement parts which look human. His grandparents aren't too thrilled with the idea, but they're soon convinced it will be safe. More on that next time.

Back at the trial, the defense calls Lilith and Nightwing in order to have them repeat that no, we can't be sure who's behind these masks, good guys or bad guys. Chase then "renders his decision," which to me seems like a completely arbitrary plot device. I won't go into all the potential legal problems I see with this hearing -- whatever it's supposed to do -- but suffice it to say it's a traveshamockery. The simplest thing might well have been for Chase to declare a mistrial based on the Gar/Slade fight, but then we wouldn't have had those two pages' worth of redundant testimony from Lilith and Nightwing. The upshot of the issue is, as you've probably already guessed, Slade is acquitted of the big charges. This suits Gar fine, because he used Steve Dayton's Mento helmet to impersonate the Terminator himself. Now Gar gets to track Slade down and kill him, which is what he's wanted to do ... well, probably since issue #10, I'm guessing.

Also, in terms of the Lilith/Azrael plot, we learn that Lilith has had her heat-based powers for a while, but she's just never used them before now. They manifest themselves as nightmares whenever she's under stress, so that's why she left the group originally. This time, though, she's leaving because she's p.o.'ed over their treatment of Azrael. Don't worry, she won't be gone long.

Finally, Tales #55 (July 1985), drawn by Ron Randall, brings the Gar/Slade conflict to a head. Nothing's going right for the green-skinned 16-year-old -- the Titans won't help him, Steve Dayton's grounded him, Jillian is once again forbidden to see him, and his attitude isn't making matters any better. Slade's been sentenced to a year in a Club Fed on a weapons charge, so that gives Gar an opportunity to attack him in prison. It doesn't bear out, though, so Gar tells Slade to meet him out in the wilderness where they'll go mano y animales -- to the death. Gar visits Tara's grave, and Slade visits his son Grant's.

Trouble is, Slade then shows up at the fight scene without his costume or weapons, and Gar can't bring himself to kill plain ol' Slade Wilson. His frustrations having burned themselves out, Gar and Slade start to talk, and they don't stop until Gar's worked out his issues. Slade goes over ground that's fairly familiar to us: he only took the HIVE's contract on the Titans out of loyalty to his son; Tara Markov was a psychopath (who incidentally killed an old friend of Gar's from Africa); and once the HIVE contract was fulfilled by "The Judas Contract," Slade considered himself done with the Titans. The difference seems to be that this time Gar is in a mood to listen; I presume because his nerves are completely shot by this point. In the end, Slade sets Gar straight on a couple of things: Joey is completely trustworthy (also, Addie was working with the CIA); and Gar can prove himself to the Titans primarily by not acting like a doofus so much of the time. We'll be the judge of that, Mr. Wilson....

* * *

On their own, these issues aren't that bad. The plots and subplots start to break down the further they go along, though. By the time issue #51 rolls around, Joey's been with the group for at least five full issues, and has earned enough of their trust to invade the undersea HIVE base and participate pretty heavily in Donna's wedding. Granted, Joey didn't spend a lot of time with Gar during those stories, but still. Speaking of the undersea base, of course, that whole snafu illustrates the extent to which Marv was starting to confuse even himself. He was working on Crisis too, lest we forget.

Moreover, in the context of the larger series, these issues seem like a lot of subplot-churning. The Lilith/Azrael story doesn't really go anywhere. Much of the Gar/Terminator story feels pretty redundant, and undoes all the working-through-grief Gar did in issues 45-50. His sit-down with Slade in #55 is effective, but the book takes a long time to get there. The Jericho story isn't bad on its own, since it expands on his family history and establishes some intriguing elements in his backstory, but it doesn't feel like part of the regular book. (Today it'd probably be a separate miniseries.) Overall, these issues seem to be items on a checklist: Joey needs more of his own identity, despite having been in the book for several months; and Gar apparently needs more closure than was previously thought.

Of course, I suspect the real reason for these stories is to fill a certain amount of issues before the reprints of the Baxter series begin. In that respect these stories are the 52 of the franchise's "One Year Later" jump, but there's so little difference between the two Titans books that there can't have been too much going on in this one that's been left behind.

That illusion-of-change feeling gets worse with the next arc, the last for the book that started it all.

Next: One word -- plastics!
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Friday, February 15, 2008

New comics 2/13/08

Well, we're getting settled in here in the Memphis metro area (we're in the 'burbs, actually), and what looks like the main LCS is fairly close to the house, so good news all around. Thanks for all the good wishes, too. I'm looking forward to getting to know the area!

Still, you're not here for the travel tips, and I haven't hooked up the scanner yet, so...

Fantastic Four #554 (written by Mark Millar, drawn by Bryan Hitch) has some good ideas. Sue's Junior League-ish "super-team" is one of them, as is the idea that Alyssa Moy (glad I read the Claremont issues!) is just as good as Reed without being held back by family obligations. Hitch is reliably good, as usual. However, I can't decide whether Millar is ripping off Magrathea, the Quantum Mechanics from Hitch (and Mark Waid)'s JLA: Heaven's Ladder, or both. It's certainly a big enough idea for the FF (as it was for the Justice League), but Millar and Hitch have such matter-of-fact styles that it loses something, somehow, in "translation." I definitely get the idea that the A-games are being brought, but (at the risk of mixing metaphors horribly) their reaches may exceed their grasps.

Spider-Man Family #7 includes a funny, sweet story about the Looter's love for his piece of meteor rock. It's Mark Waid, Todd Dezago, and Karl Kesel's tribute to their late colleague Mike Wieringo, and I really enjoyed it. The rest of the issue reprints the first issue of a Venom miniseries obviously from the '90s, the first issue of a Gwen Stacy flashback miniseries, and a Japanese Spidey story. I'm still working my way through those, and also the bonus materials in Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure. The latter reconstructs the Lee/Kirby story that appeared (in altered form) in FF #108, and of course I can't say anything bad about Lee/Kirby FF.

Bat Lash #3 (written by Sergio Aragones & Peter Brandvold, drawn by John Severin) takes the overall story in a pretty grim direction, and for a story which has featured attempted rape as a major plot device, that's saying something. I do think the villains are made to be suitably evil, but I'm not getting much in the way of characterization from Bat himself.

Was a little surprised to see an Alpha Lantern story in Green Lantern Corps #21 (written by Sterling Gates, drawn by Nelson), since I thought the Alphas' "origin" was still unfolding in the main GL book. Anyway, the spotlight here is on Boodikka, who I believe was introduced in the Gerry Jones era of the very early '90s. Even so, this may be our first look at her homeworld and early life. It's an OK issue -- the main conflicts have to be restated for folks who don't know them already from the other title, and the story-specific conflicts are pretty familiar. Boodikka isn't the first Lantern to suffer the rejection of her old social group. The art isn't bad, but it's not particularly energitic either. However, the plot brings everything together at the end in a fairly new way, and if this is your first Alpha Lantern story it's probably not too shabby.

JLA Classified #52 (written by Roger Stern, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Mark Farmer) features the present-day League's fight with Titus. It was good, in terms of book-length fight scenes. Every Leaguer got a spotlight, there was a bit of backstory involving an Amazonian prophecy, and it ended on a cliffhanger. Can't ask for much more than that.

I didn't quite know what to expect from Beautie: An Astro City Character Special (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson), but I ended up pleasantly surprised by its "Twilight Zone" feel. At first I wondered whether Anderson was just giving Beautie Barbie-like characteristics and mannerisms, so it was a little confusing before I realized that's the way she's supposed to look. Once I got past that, I realized how unnerving she would be even among the other AC characters, and that discomfort helps to define her. Overall, I thought it was a good standalone story, and it doesn't quite matter that it might not have much to do with the overall AC mega-plot.

Superman #673 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Jesus Merino) wraps up the Insect Queen storyline with a bit of super-power use that made me, and no doubt other readers, think "it doesn't work that way!" I didn't dislike this storyline, because it built the IQ up as a credible threat, gave Lana something productive to do, and had some good scenes with Chris Kent ... but really, heat vision doesn't work that way, does it? As for the art, Merino has some of the same issues with choreography and poses that Peter Vale does, but overall he did a good job.

I liked Wonder Woman #17 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Terry & Rachel Dodson and Ron Randall) pretty well, but I couldn't figure out why one Amazon appears to suffer a couple of mortal wounds on one page and then turns up somewhat less than dead shortly thereafter. Misdirection, I guess; which is how we get suspense. Anyway, this is more of Wonder Woman being the toughest person in the room (or in the jungle, or on the beach), as she intimidates the Nazis off Themyscira and then takes out the four Amazons who've wanted her dead since her birth. I was also surprised by the revelations about Etta Candy, who I guess got Superboy-punched somewhere along the way. Thought Ron Randall meshed pretty well with the Dodsons, too.

Green Arrow/Black Canary #5 (written by Judd Winick, drawn by Andre Coelho) was okay. Essentially a flashback about Connor Hawke's childhood, it also includes Ollie and Dinah's real wedding and sets up what looks like the next main storyline (which may well involve Connor's being healed). The flashbacks are rooted in the core of Ollie's character, which is (I think) the conflict between his extreme self-centeredness and his perpetual desire to make up for same. In other words, Ollie's a jerk who realizes his shortcomings about ten seconds too late. If you can get past that, he becomes more sympathetic, and these flashbacks probably become easier to take. Otherwise, there's probably no way you keep reading this book. Art was pretty decent -- kind of like Cliff Chiang, but with thinner, harsher lines.

Most of the action's on Apokolips in Countdown #11 (written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Mark McKenna), but nothing much happens. Oh sure, Brother Eye and OMAC mow down para-demons, and Holly, Harley, and Mary fight a new (and probably less-powerful) batch of Female Furies, and Karate Kid gets some action as well, but I don't get the same sense of plot advancement from this issue that I did from the Earth-51 story which ran through the January installments. Art is good, because I think Norton and McKenna are capable storytellers with a clean, appealing design sense. Other than that the book has the same problems it's always had: it assumes you're in this for the long haul and it doesn't need to explain anything.

Finally, I wasn't surprised by the cliffhanger at the end of Booster Gold #0 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund), because I'd seen the solicitations for future issues. Besides, no good can come of Booster's time-mucking. I did like the Zero Hour elements, though, especially the notion that this was the "Zero Month" issue which re-told Booster's origin. Unfortunately, I'm not getting the sense of camaraderie and joie de vivre that I should be from the return of the Blue and Gold team. Ted's just too serious -- understandably, I think, since he's just faced his own death. Maybe next month, when they're dodging OMACs, they'll be funnier.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Goin' to Graceland

Well, now it can be told: we're moving to Memphis. It's all happened pretty quickly, with the Best Wife Ever jetting back and forth (she's being transferred) and me stuck here on monitor duty. Everything starts tomorrow -- two days' worth of chaos, two days more driving, and (Lord willing) unloading next weekend. Regular service should resume in about a week.

Although we've lived here less than two years, I want to say a little bit about Williamsburg, Virginia. Longtime readers of this blog will remember the Great Move of '05, which seemed to take forever and got extended into such things as bar exams and job searches. Thus, it seems like we'd only recently gotten settled in here when we learned we'd be moving.

Williamsburg has been fairly good to us. We enjoyed having the Historic Area handy, anytime we wanted a nice walk. Although development took off like a rocket not long after we moved in, it did yield a nice movie theater (lessening the need to go to Newport News for movies), some good restaurants, and a new home for Comic Cubicle, my local comics shop. We got involved in church and made many close friends in what is now too short a time. We felt welcome in our neighborhood right from the start.

So thanks for everything, Williamsburg, from the Bondurants. Don't grow up too fast!

And thanks in advance, all twelve of you who are still reading, for your continued patience. See you soon!
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