Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday Soliloquy

I didn't know Zak Kebron had become Excalibur's Counselor (as well as security chief), but that probably made this scene funnier:

[From "Turnaround, Part II," in Star Trek: New Frontier #2, April 2008. Written by Peter David, drawn by Stephen Thompson, colored by Leonard O'Grady, lettered by Neil Uyetake.]
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New comics 4/23/08

Well, Countdown ended on Wednesday, so I talked about it on Thursday. I thought it suffered from a lack of focus which, while understandable, was also avoidable.

Still, I did buy other comics, and here they are.

Star Trek: New Frontier #2 (written by Peter David, drawn by Stephen Thompson) brings in a couple more NF characters, just when I was starting to get used to the ones already in play. Essentially, everything's moving towards a confrontation with Jellico and the stolen timeship at New Thallon, but the waiting gives us time for some character interaction. Overall the issue was fine. Exposition was integrated pretty well into dialogue. (There are no narrative captions -- not even a Captain's Log -- in the entire issue, which is a little odd for a Trek comic.) A new Galaxy-class starship comes into the picture too, which is confusing for those of us expecting the only such ship to be the Excalibur. Anyway, the art is about the same as last issue -- rougher than I'm used to for a Trek comic, but true to the aesthetic. Three issues to go, and I have a feeling everything will happen in the last one.

It looks like Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier put all their social commentary into the latest Groo miniseries and let themselves go wacky with The Spirit (#16 written by them and drawn by Paul Smith). Denny Colt is hardly as dense as Groo, but in this issue he errs -- in a well-meaning way, of course. The Spirit goes Hollywood to solve an on-set murder. While it looks play-fair at first, about halfway through it starts getting deliberately convoluted, so the reader is left to relax and let everything play out. Since that includes, among other things, a Carson Kressly parody and a stuntman gig (reminiscent of "bring in the double!" from that one Daffy Duck cartoon), the murder seems almost beside the point. With Paul Smith showing off his cartooning chops, the issue looks really good, but again, it's only Eisneresque on the surface.

Dwayne McDuffie devotes most of Justice League of America #20 (drawn by Ethan Van Sciver) to Wally West's struggle with rejoining the JLA. In its way, it's reminiscent of the "should I be a superhero?" angst which Wally went through 25 years ago, back in the New Teen Titans days -- only now, Wally has his own family, instead of worrying about his parents and girlfriend back home. Thus, Wally and Wonder Woman fight the Queen Bee while WW prods him to live up to his League responsibilities. I thought this issue was executed pretty well. McDuffie writes Wally and Diana well, and while Van Sciver's art is a little stiff, it's miles ahead of Ed Benes' sketchy, pose-heavy work. (The storytelling involving WW at the end is a little unclear, though.) I'd have liked more than two JLAers and a Black Lightning cameo in McDuffie's first crossover-free issue, but it sounds like he'll have time to do his own thing soon enough.

I don't know what happened to regular artists Tony Daniel and Jonathan Glapion, but fill-in penciller Ryan Benjamin and fill-in inker Saleem Crawford bring a bit too much '90s Image overthinking to Batman #675 (written, of course, by Grant Morrison). This issue is the bridge between the alternate-Batmen arc and next issue's "Batman R.I.P.," and it exists apparently to elevate Bruce's girlfriend Jezebel Jade to Silver St. Cloud status. It's the secret-identity dilemma of a familiar "Bruce is trapped in public" situation, only this time Bruce is somehow unable to find a good spot to change. Maybe it's the presence of a Ten-Eyed Assassin, the cult which was part of Bruce's epiphany during the Year of 52. Anyway, I don't have much of a problem with Morrison's script (which also includes scenes for Robin, Nightwing, and Talia), but the art is pretty distracting.

Sean McKeever's last issue of Birds Of Prey (#117, pencilled by Nicola Scott and inked by Doug Hazlewood) turns out to be his best. Misfit gets to show off without being annoying. The Platinum Flats supervillains are both believably low-rent and scary. Oracle makes good decisions. It's a good issue which tests our heroes but doesn't dwell on their troubles, and as always it's told well sequentially by Ms. Scott and Mr. Hazlewood. The bar has been set high for Tony Bedard.

Finally, I say goodbye to Checkmate, as writers Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann turn in their last issue (#25, drawn by Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson). I can't say much about the plot without spoiling it, except that the Rooks take advantage of a truly scary and dangerous mind-link to do their thing as well as they do. Sasha gets a scene with Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman compliment Checkmate, and the final twist took me completely by surprise. Rucka and his co-writer(s) went out on top, and I think it's best to go out with 'em.
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Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Jonah Hex thinks he's J.M. Marberry's business partner. Therefore, the following comes as something of a surprise....

Tonight we ride with Bahlactus!

[From "The Hoax," in Weird Western Tales #18, April-May 1973, reprinted in Showcase Presents Jonah Hex Vol. 1. Written by John Albano, drawn by Tony DeZuniga, lettered by (I think) Milt Snapinn.]
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Monday, April 21, 2008

New comics 4/16/08

Let's begin with Captain America #37 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting), an issue where everybody hassles Bucky and/or Tony Stark for the whole New Cap thing. Its tone is lighter than the book's been in a while, with Bucky commenting on everyone hassling him and a weird anachronistic dream sequence. After the relentless pace of the last few issues, though, it's a welcome change. There are also some nice moments involving the Falcon which I appreciated more in light of plok's advice on the '70s Steve Englehart run. My one complaint involves a certain ex-Avenger who shows up at Bucky's loft. I wouldn't have known who it was without his being identified in dialogue; and I know that's part of what dialogue does, but I see "burly blond guy" as drawn by Epting and I think Steve Rogers. Either him or Aquaman. In other words, he didn't look like ******* to me. Nitpicky, I know.

Bat Lash #5 (written by Sergio Aragones & Peter Brandvold, drawn by John Severin) finds Bat looking to settle affairs with Brubaker and Wilder, the story's main villains. Helping matters along are the rest of the town and Bat's Native American allies, all of whom want the bad guys dead. It's a darkly comic issue which doesn't zip along as quickly as it wants to. It's decent enough, I guess. It does set up what I presume will be the final showdown, which in turn should form the foundation of Bat's familiar personality. So, looking forward to next issue, because it needs to make up for the shortcomings of its predecessors.

Exposition balances action in Tangent: Superman's Reign #2 (written by Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Robin Riggs), as the Tangent GL revives one of the Tangent Jokers for one last adventure. That has to wait, however, because the Joker needs to tell us about her death at Tangent Superman's hands. The other action sequence involves more Tangent heroes trying to free the Tangent Atom, and that's balanced against a scene with the Tangent Superman intimidating some sheiks. Tangent, Tangent, Tangent. Still, I'm surprised at how well the Tangent U. holds together, considering it started life as a series of one-shots. This continues to be one of Jurgens' better writing efforts, and I like Jamal Igle a lot already.

Superman #675 (pencilled by Renato Guedes and Jorge Correa Jr., inked by Jose Wilson Magalhaes and Correa) is Kurt Busiek's last issue as writer before he moves over to the weekly Trinity starting in June. Accordingly, he can go out on a story where Superman fights Daxamite priests (I thought they were pacifists), the power-duplicating Paragon, and the new Galactic Golem. Busiek has done a great job recreating the feel of a Superman comic from the 1970s, when the conflicts came from disruptions to the character's semi-formal routines. Here, Busiek has been building those routines, so the normal super-fights tend to come across like days at the office. This particular arc has been a little more shaggy than some, but it still holds together well, even in the parts describing the Golem and how to defeat it. The art is good -- Guedes' work is very similar to what I'd call the thin-lined, "open" style of Pete Woods, who started with Busiek two years ago. Superman is big but not bulky or overmuscled, and everybody moves well. Correa picks up the spare without being too noticeably different, so god work all around.

I liked The Flash #239 (written by Tom Peyer, drawn by Freddie Williams II) more than I did Peyer's first issue, and that's mostly due to the rationalization of Wally's behavior. An increasingly cranky Jay Garrick gets a lot of attention this time out, which leaves Wally free to act more like the Wally we know. He does get a pretty good gig this issue, but doesn't get a chance to enjoy it. Peyer's script is effective at portraying the tide of public opinion turning against Wally. While a lot of that might be mind control, Peyer gives it enough nuance that we're never quite sure. I also liked Williams' art throughout this issue, which I think is a first. He's finally getting a good feel for Wally's figure and his movement. (Hey, it took me a while to come around to Pat Gleason too.)

The Brave and the Bold #12 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Jerry Ordway, inked by Bob Wiacek) finishes the "Megistus" storyline with a plethora of characters including Superman, the Challengers, Green Lantern, and Metamorpho. However, the star turns out to be Challenger June, who apparently has some inferiority issues over not "living on borrowed time" like the original Challs. Why she has these issues after forty-odd years with the group is never quite explained, but not being a COTU scholar I'll defer to Waid on that one. The script is a little more clunky than is usual for this book, probably due to the number of characters and the wonky element-transmuting mechanics of the plot. Ordway does well with it, though; and he delivers customarily solid work here. Although there's a clever nod to Final Crisis, here's hoping that this book continues to be the tonic for the constant-crossover mentality.

... And speaking of which, the penultimate issue of Countdown (#2 written by Paul Dini and Sean McKeever, story consultant Keith Giffen, drawn by Scott Kolins) starts with Giant Turtle-Boy Jimmy and ends with what looks like the series' most obvious setup for Final Crisis. (That is, before DC decided that this series wouldn't really lead into FC quite so much.) It's pretty straightforward stuff -- two interconnected fights bridged by some Atom heroics, portrayed well by Kolins and colorist Tom Chu. (I'm guessing Giffen might have contributed to the breakdowns, but I don't know for sure). Let's put it this way -- this issue made me think Kolins would be a good fit for a Hulk series. It didn't redeem all of Countdown, and I doubt there'll be much in this week's final issue to do that, but on its own it was a good fight.
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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Trading Places

The instructions, via plok:

“What creators who are usually associated with a certain company (or, indeed, medium) would you like to see writing someone else’s title? For example, would you want to see JMS on Hellboy? Which DC character should Bendis have a crack at? Should George Pelecanos write Batman? (Answer: Yes)

This could be a tough one. There aren't too many company-specific people left, what with Mark Bagley going to DC and Mark Waid having written some of Marvel's biggest characters (including, soon, a run on Amazing Spider-Man). But ... okay.

1. Michael Chabon and Mike Allred on Fantastic Four. It sounds like it would be a '60s pastiche, and to a certain extent it would be, but I think these two would bring a good mix of Lee/Kirby reverence, irreverence, and innovation to the book. Plus, aren't you curious to see how Chabon would do a multi-issue arc?

2. Greg Rucka and Joe Bennett on a S.H.I.E.L.D. book. Yes, it'd be Checkmate with a Helicarrier -- but also a high concept that actually pays off.

3. Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins on Incredible Hulk would give Johns a chance to indulge his bloodlust (I kid because I love); and Kolins does big, bulky carnage well.

4. I really liked plok's idea for a Hellboy-esque Mignola Captain America, so I'll appropriate the gist of it. How about Walt Simonson on a 1940s Justice Society of America?

5. Since Waid's going to be writing Spidey, I guess that particular pairing is off-limits; so let's put Paul Dini on Amazing Spider-Man instead, with Cliff Chiang drawing. (Mike Norton if Chiang's unavailable.)

6. I see that Jim Roeg has picked Ed Brubaker for New Teen Titans, and while I'd love to read that, I've gotta put Brubaker on Justice League of America, together with Alan Davis.

How's that?
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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Brief thoughts after re-reading Ronin

(By the way, I'm writing this while listening to "Night On Disco Mountain" from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Wasn't intentional; just worked out that way. Seems eerily appropriate.)

Since DC's doing an Absolute Edition of Ronin, I thought it appropriate to re-read the thing for the first time in ... well, several years. Maybe even ten years. Heck, maybe closer to fifteen.

For those who don't know, Ronin was six issues, 48 pages each, of Frank Miller sci-fi samurai action. It came out in 1983, which I think was around the end of his first stint on Daredevil. (Not being a DD scholar I can't say for sure.) Anyway, it came out before The Dark Knight, and was collected in 1987 in order to capitalize on Dark Knight's success.

The plot concerns a few major characters. The title character (never named) is a warrior whose master was killed by a demon, Agat, in feudal Japan. Naturally, both the ronin and Agat show up in a dystopian future New York, which has at its center the bio-mechanical Aquarius complex. Aquarius is controlled by the supercomputer Virgo, but its human master is a man named Taggart, and its chief security officer is a woman named Casey McKenna. There's also Casey's husband, who created Virgo. Basically, the ronin takes over a limbless telekinetic boy, gets a set of artificial limbs, and tries once again to stop Agat (who's taken over Taggart).

There's more, of course, but I don't want to get too far into it. Wikipedia says Ronin is Miller's most manga-influenced work, but I'm tempted to describe it (glibly) as "Samurai Jack" meets Heavy Metal via Akira. It also seems to have been Miller's first "mature readers" book, although there's no such advisory on my paperback and none on the Absolute's solicitation. There are a lot of racial slurs and a decent amount of nudity to go along with all the hacking and slashing.

But I digress. If you've read it, you know how it ends, so my question is ...





... what the heck does it mean?

I read Ronin the first few times mostly for the superficial elements: violence, robots, nudity, etc. If I'm going to even entertain the thought of an Absolute edition, I'll need something a little more thematically coherent. Miller spends a lot of the climax selling the reader on the idea that Billy is (re)creating the ronin and Agat in the context of Aquarius -- but the ending suggests both that the ronin is dead and that Billy has recreated himself as the ronin.

So, is that it? The book just stops cold at that point.

I guess I'm asking whether we like Ronin 25 years later; and/or whether we consider it an example of the style-over-substance, pants-seat-plotting Miller of, say, The Dark Knight Strikes Back.

Mostly I guess I'm asking whether we like the ending. I didn't a few days ago, but I'm starting to warm up to it the more I think about it.
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Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Friday Night Fights is back! Here, Howard has finally gotten the hang of being Sorcerer Supreme -- but of course nothing satisfies like a little chin music!

Coming to you as Bahlactus demands -- in glorious "quack and white!"

(Sorry, couldn't resist....)

[From "The Duck and the Defenders," in Marvel Treasury Edition #12 (1976). Written by Steve Gerber, pencilled by Sal Buscema, inked by Klaus Janson, lettered by Joe Rosen. Reprinted, of course, in Essential Howard The Duck Vol. 1.]
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Monday, April 14, 2008

New comics 4/9/08

You might already have seen my lengthy (shocking!) post about Titans #1 and Batman Confidential #16 over at Blog@Newsarama. Regardless, there's still a truckload of new books to go through here.

First I want to mention Green Arrow And Black Canary #7 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Wayne Faucher). When I saw that Cliff Chiang would be leaving this title, I announced loudly that he was one of the big reasons I was buying the book. If he went, I might just follow him; and how would you like them apples, DC?

Well, as it happens, new artists Mike Norton and Wayne Faucher do their darndest to replicate Chiang's endearing thick-lined style, which is nice. It also doesn't hurt that there's a touch of Mike Parobeck in their work. So, well done all. As long as Norton and Faucher are on the book, I'll be getting it.

As for the story, it may not please readers who think that longtime Justice Leaguers shouldn't comport themselves like they've OD'ed on "Alias" reruns; but hey, I liked it. After Ollie, Dinah, and Mia interrogate the guys they captured last issue, it's off to England for more hijinx in a pub. The story seems to have gotten padded out by at least an issue, but that may be so that Winick can introduce the guy our heroes meet this issue. Anyway, the trail leads back to one of Dinah's old flames, which should be interesting....

I liked a lot of things about The Last Defenders #2 (script by Joe Casey, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Jim Muniz, inks by Cam Smith), but it's hard to describe why. The book isn't so much about this weird little group of "Defenders" as it is about the idea of the Defenders, and I suppose the sense that you can't impose too much organization upon it or it all falls apart. This issue is divided essentially in two: the opening fight scene which picks up from last issue, and the "infiltration" scene which sets up the cliffhanger. Running through the book is a jaunty, smart-aleck attitude where Joe Casey (by his own admission) essentially becomes Giffen's Justice League scripter, following in the keystrokes of J.M. DeMatteis, Bill Messner-Loebs, and Gerard Jones. It's that kind of attitude, and it actually ends up propelling the overall plot. Accordingly, the somewhat chunky, Ed McGuinness-y figures Jim Muniz pencils sometimes seem out of place -- too macho where they should be more comical -- but once we get past an Iron Man whose head seems to be shrinking as we watch, the effect becomes negligible. Revealing the book's villains as a couple of obscure Jack Kirby creations from the '70s doesn't hurt either.

Who wants to bet that Marvel does a "Special Rough Cut!" of Fantastic Four #556 (written by Mark Millar, pencilled by Bryan Hitch, inked by Hitch and Andrew Currie) where the stupid "blizzard" effects are removed? If you've seen the issue you know the problem. If not ... well, let's just say there are probably a half-dozen better ways to depict a snowstorm via sequential art, but obviously none of them looked as "realistic" as just putting random white splotches all over the panels. Especially when said panels depict dozens of tiny superheroes attacking a big red-white-and-blue robot. Thanks, Marvel, for making Hitch's work unreadable. The rest of the book is about like you'd expect; namely, very pleased with itself. I didn't think FF could test my patience any more than the JMS run did, but maybe I was wrong.

Superman Confidential comes to an end with #14 (written by B. Clay Moore, pencilled by Phil Hester, inked by Ande Parks), the conclusion of the Jimmy Olsen/Toyman story. I liked it well enough. I like Hester and Parks' work generally, and this issue hit all the right Toyman, Jimmy, and Superman beats. The story itself wasn't anything special, but it wasn't egregiously bad either.

It was good to see the regular team of Peter Tomasi (writer) Patrick Gleason (penciller) and Prentis Rollins (inker) back in Green Lantern Corps #23. The Boodikka story was only two issues, but it felt like an eternity. However, we're now looking at a few months with Mongul, the Sinestro rings, and a garden full of Black Mercy. This issue introduces that arc, with most of it devoted to summoning Guy, Kyle, Dr. Natu, et al. to Oa for their mission to round up the aforesaid yellow rings. I liked it pretty well. Tomasi has a better handle on the dialogue here than he does in Nightwing, by which I mean that he doesn't seem to be trying as hard to make the characters sound cool. Gleason and Rollins have long since settled into a comfortable groove on this title. The Black Mercy might be getting overexposed of late, but I still have high hopes for this story.

Another Green Lantern shows up in Wonder Woman #19 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Bernard Chang, inked by Jon Holdridge), but since he's unfamiliar to us, Diana spends most of the issue fighting him. It's a good illustration of the "fighting shows the value of not fighting" philosophy that informs the modern take on Wonder Woman, and it has the added advantage of letting Diana go one-on-one with a Green Lantern. Meanwhile, Etta Candy and a couple of Khunds have their own roles to play in deciding the fate of the planet. The art is good, but I still can't put my finger on who Chang's WW looks like. I was also pleasantly surprised at the ending, which I hope has repercussions down the line.

Speaking of repercussions, Booster Gold #8 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund) finds the death-cheating Blue Beetle and Booster Gold teaming up with a motley crew of superheroes to invade Max Lord's headquarters and maybe try to free Superman from Max's mental control. Yeah, good luck with that. Johns and Katz's script is good as usual, and I notice this issue how much more fluid Dan Jurgens' figures have gotten over the course of this series. It's another solid issue of a title which might just make DC's labyrinthine history accessible to (and, more importantly, fun for) the casual reader.

On the other hand, there's Countdown #3 (written by Paul Dini and Sean McKeever, story consultant Keith Giffen, drawn by Freddie Williams II), a Superman/Darkseid fight involving Dark Mary Marvel, a Kryptonite-powered Jimmy Olsen, and the Atom. There's 40-odd pages left in this monster storyline, and they'll pick up on Wednesday with Jimmy Vs. Darkseid. I can't make that sound any better. Freddie Williams, bless his heart, isn't quite the right artist for this throwdown either -- his characters look just a little too goofy for what's obviously meant to be serious business. Well, except for the last page, but I think that on some level that's meant to be serious too ... and if so, that's just sad.

The serious/funny thing is handled much better, of course, in the concluding issue of Groo: Hell On Earth (#4 produced by Sergio Aragones, with help from Mark Evanier, Tom Luth, and Stan Sakai), in which the Sage manages to get everyone lined up so that war is averted and environmental catastrophe is at least mitigated. It's been a fun little story -- somewhat obvious as an allegory, but it's not like Groo has ever been subtle.

Serenity: Better Days #2 (written by Joss Whedon & Brett Matthews, drawn by Will Conrad) finds the crew imagining what they'll do when they're rich, which turns out to be quite entertaining whether presented in single-panel gags or more extended sequences. The art is fine, and Conrad captures the look of the show and its cast well. As was the case last issue, the mechanics of one scene still don't make sense to me after multiple readings, but again, maybe I am slow. Also, the cliffhanger seems a little confusing. I was entertained, but maybe the book isn't technically as good as I thought.

Finally, I did buy Batman: Death Mask #1 (by Yoshinori Natsume), the "look! Bat-Manga!" miniseries, because I try to keep an open mind. I don't read manga, and I don't watch much anime, mostly because I am too busy with other things to give those media any significant attention. However, I will say that this Batman manga doesn't seem very innovative either for Batman or for manga. It certainly doesn't have the energy that a rookie like me might have expected. Instead, it's a black-and-white Batman story told from right to left. Maybe the speed lines and hyperactivity have been toned down for us entry-level readers? That would be understandable, but unfortunately the story isn't much to recommend either. The titular death mask kills people, there's a mysterious woman from Bruce Wayne's past, and Bruce is having strange dreams. But for the format, it'd be an average arc from Legends Of The Dark Knight. I'll keep getting the miniseries to see how it turns out, and to support this kind of cross-pollenization, but so far it looks like a missed opportunity.
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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunday Soliloquy

In honor of finishing up our taxes, I was going to look for some speech from one of the "Wally West, IRS Agent" issues of Bill Messner-Loebs' Flash ... but a) I'm not sure there is such a thing; and b) I still haven't gotten the long boxes in a searchable state.

Accordingly, here's Zibarro, emoting:

The smartest man on a planet of idiots -- we've all been there, am I right?

[From "Us Do Opposite," in All Star Superman #8, August 2007. Written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Frank Quitely, digitally inked and colored by Jamie Grant, lettered by Phil Balsman.]
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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thursday Night Thinking

Groo has no plan for leading his troops -- so the troops devise a plan to distract Groo.

Of course, it's always dangerous to try and remove Groo from a fray, but at least this hapless soul is THINKING before he acts....

Over to you, General Diamondrock!

[From Groo: Hell On Earth #4, April 2008. By Sergio Aragones; with wordsmith Mark Evanier, colorist Tom Luth, and letterer Stan Sakai.]
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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sunday Soliloquy

We all know about the original Hourman -- take a Miraclo pill and get an hour's worth of super-powers. What happens, though, when it turns out to be a false alarm?

The solution involves some odd jobs, pickup basketball, and (thank goodness!) a burning building -- but that's not a soliloquy, so maybe some other time.

[From "An Hour With Hourman," in Solo #7, December 2005. Written by Mike Allred and Laura Allred, drawn by Mr. Allred, colored by Ms. Allred, lettered by Nate Piekos.]
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Thursday, April 03, 2008

New comics 4/2/08

First up this week is Detective Comics #843 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Dustin Nguyen, inked by Derek Fridolfs), an issue which mixes the Penguin, Zatanna, the Ventriloquist, and a couple of characters from earlier in Dini's tenure. With all of those players, you'd think there's not much room for Batman, and indeed, Bruce Wayne is in it more than Batman is. It's a tightly-plotted issue revolving around a Gotham rich-kid opening a nightclub to compete with the Penguin's, and hiring Zatanna for a little extra sizzle. The Ventriloquist's new "voice" reveals a surprising secret, and the cliffhanger's pretty good too. As for the art, I don't dislike Nguyen and Fridoffs, but I'm still getting used to their style. Nguyen uses very thin lines and Fridoffs is heavy on the blacks, and it reminds me of early Mike Mignola.

Keeping with the Bat-theme, here's Nightwing #143 (written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Christian Alamy and Mark McKenna), a stopping point in the current grave-robbing-villain storyline. If you like Nightwing and Robin vs. an island base full of zombie super-soldiers, scenes punctuated by witty banter, and references to classic rock and Jaws, this is the issue for you. I found it to be a little too pleased with itself, but still an improvement for the title overall. Don Kramer fills in for Rags Morales this issue, but except for a little more stiffness I didn't really notice. Together with Alamy and McKenna, the art isn't too far from normal.

The fill-in work of Ron Randall is less noticeable on Supergirl #28 (written by Kelley Puckett, with the balance pencilled by Drew Johnson and inked by Ray Snyder), an issue that was actually pretty decent. After more than a few issues so inscrutable they'd make the average episode of "Aeon Flux" look like a flowchart, here's one which starts to pull everything together. Supergirl has promised an adorable moppet she'll find a cure for his cancer. Naturally, everyone (personified here initially by Wonder Woman) thinks she's nuts. Supergirl then finds a cult-favorite DC character from the '90s (I won't spoil the cover's tease!) to try and convert to her side. Most of the issue involves Supergirl talking to Wonder Woman and then to Mystery Character, and she does continue to act a bit weird, but with this issue I felt like there was a purpose.

Sadly, that provides an apt segue into Countdown #4 (written by Paul Dini and Sean McKeever, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne), which once again seems to have lost sight of its purpose. After the last few weeks' detour with the Great Disaster, our heroes are back on the real Earth ... but, as the cover indicates, Mary Marvel has decided to go back to the black-cheerleader outfit which got her in so much trouble 30 years ago when this series was still young. So she fights the Atom and Green Lantern and Troia on the steps of the Hall of Justice (the JLA's not home, of course) in order to kidnap Jimmy Olsen for Darkseid. I like Jamal Igle and Keith Champagne's work a lot, although their Darkseid seemed a little off, so I didn't have many complaints with the art. I guess the overall story is starting to come together too. However, the Mary Marvel "reversion" still feels like a sharp yank after all that buildup to "redeem" her.

Finally -- and I do mean finally! -- Action Comics #863 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal) provides the big blowout conclusion to "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes." The payoff is Superman (and, eventually, the Legion)'s fight with Earth-Man in the streets of Metropolis. The secondary payoffs are a couple of rah-rah spreads of the Legion. Sun Boy's role in the story seemed a little too convenient, but considering that this arc could easily have lost an issue without much trouble, I appreciated this installment's pacing. Also, remember last time how I didn't like the way Butch Guice "directed" Cap's fall onto the hovercar? This issue features Superman falling pretty much from orbit, to entirely predictable results, but I liked the way Frank laid out the sequence. Frank's faces are still a bit creepy (those eyes!) and everyone looks kinda pale (thanks to Dave McCaig), but on the whole I can't complain.
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