Saturday, July 26, 2008

New comics 7/23/08

Apropos to the release today of the new X Files movie, let's start with The X Files vol. 2 #0, written by show writer/producer Frank Spotnitz and drawn by Brian Denham. It's a 22-page comic book which tells a self-contained story that -- as far as I know -- doesn't tie into the movie at all. Instead, it's chock fulla references to the show, including the "Post Modern Prometheus" episode and the "I made this!" sound bite. Most of its first page is a sequence of images pulled from the opening titles. In short, it seems to want most to say how great!, just great! it is to be back in the saddle.

And an old saddle it is, too -- this is an episode which could have taken place at any time after "PoMoPro" and before Mulder's abduction. I could try to pinpoint it from Scully's hairdo, but I don't have all my DVDs at the moment. The story won't be unfamiliar to fans of the series, since it involves kidnapping, body-hopping, and arrested aging. I wish I could say it was a more lively affair, but what would probably sound natural coming from the actors just comes across flat on the page. Maybe it's because there is little space for anything but the main plot -- very little humor, and nothing in the way of meaningful Mulder/Scully interaction. The plot itself is hard to keep straight, mostly since one of the main players is never seen.

The art, however, is fairly good, and it gets a big boost from Kelsey Shannon's coloring. Shannon keeps things moody for the most part, but occasionally enhances the wide-open spaces which helped convey the show's sense of isolation. (Clouds reflected on a car hood are a nice touch.) Denham does likenesses well, although at times his faces seem two-dimensional. Honestly, this issue reads like one of those 8-page stories TV Guide would advertise in some Special Collector's Issue. I read a good bit of Topps' X Files comic back when the show was in its heyday, so I know that translation need not be a problem. I want to believe (sorry) that this issue's done-in-one format contributed to my problems. This creative team is certainly worth watching, and I'll probably pick up X Files #1.

And as long as we're talking about licensed properties, Star Trek: New Frontier #5 (written by Peter David, drawn by Stephen Thompson) wraps up the current miniseries with an issue which does little to untangle any of its confusing bits. I might read it again, and if I ever decide to catch up on the prose NF offerings, I might find this miniseries more enjoyable. Wish I didn't have to have those conditions, though.

In a nice change of pace from wacky setting-based antics, The Spirit #19 offers three stories, each written by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier. They're all fairly pleasant. The first (drawn by Jason Armstrong) reveals how the Spirit dealt with a childhood bully; the second (pencilled by Aluir Amancio and inked by Terry Austin) finds the Spirit catching up to a reformed criminal; and the third (drawn by Paul Rivoche) is a whodunit about the murder of a comic-book artist. Again, it's not that they're done poorly -- far from it -- but nothing strikes me as especially innovative.

I hesitate to say that something like Batman: Gotham After Midnight (#3 written by Steve Niles and drawn by Kelley Jones) comes closer to what I expect from a Spirit book, but GAM does have a unique sense of design. This particular issue features a monstrous Clayface, engorged on the bodies of random Gothamites, and a very silly ending. It's a superhero comic book which isn't ashamed to be a superhero comic book. As part of that aforementioned silly ending, Clayface calls the screaming rabble "puny humans," and Batman commands him to "pick on someone [his] own size." If you don't mind that level of dialogue, and you like Kelley Jones, you'll like this book. In any event, it's better than the Millar/Hitch Fantastic Four.

Green Lantern Corps #26 (written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Drew Geraci) concludes the Black Mercy/Mongul storyline in a way that, were Alan Moore dead, might just get him spinning in his grave. I didn't mind it, but I'm a little more forgiving. Mongul suffers an ironic punishment, and Mother Mercy herself ... well, that's the part which I suspect would offend whatever's left in him that hasn't yet been offended by DC. Aah, I'm probably making too much of it. The issue was fine. Tomasi seems to fit better here than at Nightwing, and Gleason and Geraci are reliably good.

Penciller Renato Guedes, inker Wilson Magalhaes, and colorist Hi-Fi provide a nice Jack Kirby pastiche in Superman #678 (written by James Robinson). It fills in the background of Kirby's one-off character Atlas, revealing who brought him into the 21st Century, plus why and how. The rest of the issue continues the fight between Atlas and Superman, ending (much as #677 did) with the promise of more fighting. For his part, Robinson's omniscient narration gives Atlas' story a somewhat wistful tone, although Atlas doesn't seem entirely sympathetic. The present-day scenes are pretty good too -- Atlas is basically a big slab of muscle, drawn beefy and bulky so that he can stand believably against Superman. This is basic superhero stuff -- active figures against believable backgrounds -- but it's all done very well.

More action in Justice League of America #23 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Ed Benes), as the JLA takes on Amazo. This time, though, Benes doesn't seem as concerned with his female figures, and the issue benefits as a result. Practically the whole thing is devoted to the fight, with a dozen or so Justice Leaguers each getting their licks in, but Benes keeps everything moving. There are a couple of awkward panels (one where Amazo holds a helpless Flash, one where perspective makes Wonder Woman look about 8 feet tall), but on the whole it was a good issue. McDuffie's script makes Amazo a credible threat and the Leaguers capable opponents.

It wasn't until about halfway through The Brave and the Bold #15 (written by Mark Waid, drawn by Scott Kolins) that I realized this issue's headliners (Nightwing and Hawkman) were intended to match up with last issue's (Deadman and Green Arrow). Nightwing and Deadman both come from the circus (Deadman's costume even inspired Nightwing's first one), and Green Arrow and Hawkman have a longstanding friendly rivalry. Anyway, this issue boils down to pushing the Reset Button, but first, Nightwing must trick every other superhero (including Ambush Bug!) into leaving the planet. Therefore, he and Hawkman (the designated expert on magic) have no backup as they storm the demon-possessed Nanda Parbat. Like JLA, it's well-choreographed action backed up by snappy dialogue.

And finally, if snappy dialogue is what you crave, look no farther than to Ambush Bug: Year None #1 (plotted and pencilled by Keith Giffen, scripted by Robert Loren Fleming, inked by Al Milgrom). Its sense of humor might not be for everyone. This particular issue mocks DC's alleged misogyny, with the Bug asking right off the bat "[d]o you have any major appliances that don't come with a dead body in it?" and the female salesperson replying "It's a standard feature." Indeed, throughout the issue female corpses are used as cannon fodder (which I think refers to something tasteless Bill Willingham said last year in San Diego). Anyway, ABYN's targets are many and varied, but modern storytelling techniques get hit pretty hard, especially narrative-caption boxes. Oh, how I laughed. This may be 2008's Architecture and Mortality; and if you remember how much I liked that story, that's pretty high praise.
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Thursday, July 24, 2008

To Ramble Boldly Where Others Have Rambled Before

Everybody's talkin' Next Generation -- hey, me too!

It took me about six months, but I watched every episode of TNG, DS9, and "Voyager," plus the four TNG movies, in a rough Stardate order. (I had to use a spreadsheet.)

Now I'm on "Enterprise," heading into the home stretch after polishing off the season-long Xindi storyline ... but there'll be time for that later. Back to the 24C shows.

I feel pretty confident in saying that TNG's greatest asset was Patrick Stewart. Stewart sold even the goofy early-season episodes with a great combination of calm and charm, taking that stuff seriously, although not to the point of camp. Plus, he had that British accent which, with us Yankees, counts for a lot. Stewart made Picard cool, so Picard helped make TNG cool.

TNG also benefited from Paramount's seven-year commitment. Despite how you count the Original Series episodes, TNG had almost one hundred more. Clearly this provided room for all those character spotlights and political arcs. Yes, traveling from one mission to another no doubt leaves a lot of down time -- perfect for rehearsing that play or practicing that instrument -- but sometimes it felt like Picard's crew spent as much time with their hobbies as they did with the lateral sensor array.

Allow me to digress for a moment. As it happens, here's plok/pillock, commenting on his own post:

[...] clearly the main problem that faces the crew of the Enterprise-D is that they’ve got entirely too much free time on their hands. Christ, don’t these people have jobs? Everybody plays the violin, and everybody reads Shakespeare, and an awful lot of the military personnel of the future seem to be heavy into sculpting…and all the chicks wear high heels, and there! I’ve just summarized their culture pretty decently, I think. BOOOOOO-RING!

Of course, Riker's trombone and Crusher's dancing were meant to round out the characters precisely by getting them away from gadgets and technobabble. Still, when the Season 6 opener featured the crew hiding out in old San Francisco as a wobegone troupe of frustrated actors ...well, I suspect you either thought that was an hilarious extrapolation of all those shipboard plays, or you wondered how much time there was on the Enterprise to kill.

And yet, the one character on TNG who I wouldn't have expected to be exported so well was O'Brien. Sure, there was his star turn with his old captain in "The Wounded," and his and Keiko's wedding in "Data's Day," and he was showing up pretty reliably by the time he left. However, watching all those TNG DVDs, I was on the lookout for signs of DS9's O'Brien, and I didn't see too many.

It's funny, and a little cruel, to realize that O'Brien -- the guy TNG fans could look to on DS9, at least until Season 4, for a familiar Enterprise face -- becomes DS9's designated punching bag. He's thrown into two different Jails Of No Return. He has to face the possibility of a suddenly-grown, feral daughter. His wife is possessed by a Pagh-Wraith. He's briefly, but intensely, attracted to Kira while she's carrying his child. He's even replaced with a time-displaced duplicate about halfway through the series. Naturally, DS9 respected O'Brien's TNG hobbies (kayaking, the cello), but pairing him with Bashir both expanded his horizons and gave his free time some structure.

Maybe that's part of my frustration with the TNG cast's free time -- those hobbies are all so random. Picard loved literature, archaeology, and the theater, but had a wild streak finally curbed by that Nausicaan. Riker loved jazz and cooking, Crusher the performing arts, and Troi chocolate. Even O'Brien's TNG hobbies seem to have come off some wheel of fortune.

What annoys me about the hobbies is that they distract from the more interesting parts of the show. Remember when the crew's memory gets wiped by the new First Officer, and Riker and Ro theorize that maybe they were really lovahs? That never went anywhere. (Heck, nothing with Ro ever went much of anywhere.) Instead, we got Worf/Troi ... which also went nowhere, except to show (in "All Good Things") how much Riker still lurved her. Furthermore, would it have killed TNG to explain Geordi's transition from navigator to engineer a little better? What about an episode where Wesley hijacks the holodeck for his own onanistic purposes? Yes, that's what Barclay was doing, but who's to say a desperate Wesley, petrified of his secrets being laid bare before a crew of a thousand, might not just blame the malfunctions on poor ol' Reg?

(Speaking of whom, note how easily Barclay transfers to late-period "Voyager," which also constructed episodes out of the crew's leisure-time pursuits. Now, obviously the Voyager crew has more justifiable reasons for their hobbies, but still.)

I realize I'm not addressing either Tim's central point (TNG was trapped by its fidelity to the sensibilities which millions of Trekkies held dear) or plok's (TNG ignores its own implications about the universe in favor of a bland status quo). Well, from what I understand, TNG's relentless devotion to camaraderie came from Gene Roddenberry's directive that there is no conflict in Starfleet. (This, of course, led pretty directly to the built-in three-way crew conflicts of "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager.")

However, another Roddenberry directive, going back to the original "Star Trek," was that Kirk et al. needed to be recognizable as 20th-Century humans. David Gerrold's The World Of Star Trek quotes Roddenberry's Star Trek Guide:

[T]he only Westerns which failed miserably [at the time] were those which authentically portrayed the men, values, and morals of 1870. The audience applauds John Wayne playing what is essentially a 1966 man. It laughed when Gregory Peck, not a bad actor in his own right, came in wearing an authentic moustache of the period [emphasis in original].

Gerrold then goes on to say, "What Star Trek is, is a set of fables -- morality plays, entertainments, and diversions about contemporary man, but set against a science fiction background. The background is subordinate to the fable [emphasis in original]."

Now, to me that sounds more like "Galactica 2.0" than any of the 24C Trek shows. Just about every installment of the current "Battlestar Galactica" fits into the macro-plot. It has never engaged in the kind of navel-gazing, look-how-this-works episodes which were staples of Ron Moore's previous employment, because by and large the show uses familiar, even retro gadgets. Sure, there are FTL spaceships and the corners have been cut off the paper, but one of the early Caprica episodes had Starbuck driving a Hummer, f'r goshsakes. There are no salt shakers standing in for laser-scalpels -- the scalpels look like scalpels, and the salt shakers like salt shakers. The tech is not the point -- "the background is subordinate."

Of course, that could also have been the mantra of much of "Voyager," with its self-repairing corridors and spontaneously-reproducing shuttlecraft. Ironically, I think of "Galactica 2.0" as "Voyager" crossed with late-period "Deep Space Nine" -- all politics, intrigue, and survival, with a dollop of religious commentary. However, "Voyager's" weekly renewals were in the service of its secondary message; namely Janeway's desire to preserve Federation ideals and protocols thousands of light-years from home. "Galactica," like DS9 before it, ponders what kinds of catastrophes must necessarily alter a society's most cherished beliefs. "Voyager" responds overwhelmingly in the negative: the Federation is what we know, and true to the Federation we will remain, right down to steam-cleaning the carpets and replacing the lightbulbs after each week's space battle.

And yet, "Voyager" is known for that episode where Tom Paris evolves into the lizard (making lizard-babies with Lizard-Janeway), plus a good bit of altered timelines and holodeck emergencies. Remember the 29th-Century Captain Braxton, stuck for 30 years as a homeless person in 20th-Century Los Angeles, cursing Janeway's name the entire time? "Gritty Voyager" gets explored via "Year of Hell's" alternate timeline, and in a roundabout way through the beleaguered crew of the Equinox [not Phoenix -- must proofread more!]. The alt-crew even gets mashed up with the holodeck in "The Killing Game," when they're brainwashed into thinking they're fighting Nazis in WWII France. Seven threatens to re-Borgify, the Doctor becomes an entertainer on two different planets, Janeway fancies herself da Vinci's assistant. For a while the whole ship is even duplicated, and the duplicates have their own set of adventures before dying anonymous, ignominious deaths. Trek lore holds that Kirk's Enterprise was the only Constitution-class starship (out of twelve!) to return from its five-year mission relatively intact -- well, Voyager spit itself out of that Borg transwarp conduit better than new. No wonder Janeway (again, like Kirk) was made an Admiral....

And that brings us back to "Deep Space Nine," a show that at times seemed all about the background. Not quite in the techno-philic way that TNG or "Voyager" were, but in the sense that a working knowledge of about a dozen characters' backgrounds was really necessary to appreciating all the subtleties. There were no subtleties on the other two shows; at least not like on "Deep Space Nine." Its characters, and I suppose its Starfleet characters particularly, were transformed from TNG's brand of idealized-human into more recognizable people.

This was the exact opposite of "Voyager's" secondary mission statement, which had Janeway and Chakotay reorienting their Maquis crew to regular Starfleet practices. Instead, DS9 found not just O'Brien, but Sisko, Bashir, the Daxes, and even Eddington, changed by their time on the station. The non-Starfleet characters (Kira, Jake, Odo, Quark) grow and change too, but their fundamental orientation to society isn't challenged in the same way. (Well, okay, Odo's is; but he's a special case, needing first to find said orientation.)

See, if Starfleet represents the baseline code of ethics for the fictional Trek universe, it follows that challenging that code takes a lot. Even when Kirk or Picard runs up against Starfleet, it's in the service of remaining true to the code itself, as opposed to the people trying to enforce an alternate interpretation. It didn't take too long, though, for "Deep Space Nine" to have its characters explore those alternate interpretations themselves.

Both TNG and DS9 were self-referential. However, TNG concerned itself with refining the traditional Trek ethos whereas DS9 allowed itself to test the ethos' limits. To appreciate those tests, though, required that aforementioned working knowledge of Trek.

Also, "Deep Space Nine" made much better use of its holodecks than did either TNG or "Voyager" (a baseball diamond! a Vegas nightclub!) ... but I'm getting tired and this has gone on too long. I welcome your comments, because I hope it'll help me focus my thoughts more.
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Monday, July 21, 2008

New comics 7/16/08

We begin with Birds Of Prey #120 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Michael O'Hare, inked by John Floyd), the first issue in a lonnnnng time neither written by Gail Simone nor pencilled by Nicola Scott. However, it's also continued directly from #119, so I'm guessing that the departure of Scott and inker Doug Hazlewood wasn't going to come at a clean break.

Anyway, it focuses on Infinity, a character new to me who's basically invisible, immaterial, and electronically undetectable. While she sneaks into a bad guy's lab, Black Canary and Oracle have the awkward beginnings of a conversation about the death of BC's daughter. That's over pretty quickly, though, and the rest of the issue involves Infinity's escape and the surprise appearance of a Major Villain.

Since Bedard's been writing BOP for a few issues now, the big news this month is the art. O'Hara and Floyd's work reminds me of a more sedate Ed Benes -- scratchy lines, but no radical departures, and fairly functional. Fight choreography is fine (although there's a bit of a narrative gap -- no pun intended -- between pages 1 and 2) and expressions are decent. I'll stick with the book until this arc ends and evaluate the new creative team then.

The first few issues of Tangent: Superman's Reign were enjoyable, but tentative, steps establishing the parallel Earth and its stable of characters. With issue #5 (written by Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Robin Riggs), the plot starts to lurch forward. The good guys' forces must retreat from Tangent-Powergirl, and Tangent-Superman gets more proactive with regard to his DC-Earth counterparts. There's not much technically wrong with the issue, although it's not clear what happens to Hal Jordan after the first few pages. Actually, one of this issue's highlights is the history of Tangent-Joker (written by Ron Marz, pencilled by Fernando Pasarin, inked by Matt Banning), augmented by playful poses of the character. Overall, still a fine Justice League story, and I hope it picks up steam.

The Flash #242 (written by Tom Peyer, drawn by Freddie Williams II) finds the Wests in Gorilla City looking for a cure for Iris' condition. I view the West twins with a mix of affection and cynicism: affection because I think they're good characters, cynicism over the fact that they could literally die whenever the story requires it. In other words, they're around for exactly as long as DC considers them viable, and if getting rid of them means a bump in sales, well....

Still, this is a my-kid's-gonna-die story, so its success depends upon whether Peyer and Williams can generate sympathy for a character who the audience has known for only a year. Call me a sap, but I got invested in Iris' well-being. Williams' expressive faces do much of the work, but Peyer's dialogue keeps Iris' mental age consistent even as her body grows older. Good work from all corners, and I'll be waiting for next issue's conclusion.

Captain America #40 (written by Ed Brubaker) features the return of artist Steve Epting for the big Cap vs. Cap fight (and Sharon vs. Sin on the undercard). Since it's pretty much 22 pages of combat, I don't feel bad about saying simply that it's nicely choreographed. It should go without saying by now that Captain America is a mighty fine superhero comic which inspires multiple readings from issue #1 forward, but some months I just get tired of typing all that.

And on that tired-of-typing note, I will once again record my weekly purchase of Trinity (#7), observing merely that it too was reliably good.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New comics 7/10/08

I read a good bit of Marvel in the '70s, but I never got into the Marvel Universe the way I did the DC Multiverse. I think that's part of the reason I have such affection for The Defenders. Both book and concept are hard to define, and deliberately so. Therefore, their possibilities are wide open, and they can provide a consistent, perpetual "outsider" perspective because their status quo is constantly changing.

All of that means I'm not quite sure what to make of the latest issue of The Last Defenders (#5 written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Jim Muniz, inked by Cam Smith). On one hand it's clever that our protagonist, Nighthawk, is constantly being foiled in his attempts to re-form the Defenders. They're a non-team, with little "form" anyway. On the other hand, though, the miniseries implies rather strongly that there is a "Platonic ideal" of the Defenders ... which would, paradoxically, defeat the entire purpose of having a non-team. So I'm curious to see how Casey resolves that little conundrum.

I'm still not sold on Jim Muniz and Cam Smith's art. This is a black comedy, and the thick, blocky Ed McGuinness style doesn't quite work. Maybe Kevin Maguire would have been too much to ask for, but he or someone like him could have conveyed both Nighthawk's schlubbiness and the big-super-action aspects of this story. Even so, I'm enjoying the miniseries, and like I said, curious to see how it works out.

Wonder Woman #22 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Aaron Lopresti, inked by Matt Ryan) is likewise an arc's penultimate issue, wherein Diana struggles mightily with the dark forces roiling inside her. Pretty good struggle, too, although I got a little lost in all the reversals and betrayals. Lopresti and Ryan continue to turn in good work. It's not over-rendered, and it's well within the Adam Hughes/Terry Dodson-esque style the book favors. However, it's intricate enough in spots to evoke a more ... ornamented? ... feel, and that reinforces the "medieval" barbarian feel which has characterized Diana's quest. Oh, and there's another wacky misunderstanding involving Nemesis and Diana's ape-warrior houseguests. It goes on a bit too long, but ends in a way which I hope forestalls future shenanigans.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of Action Comics #867 (-5309 ... sorry ... written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal) is its portrayal of Supergirl. She only shows up for a few pages at the beginning, but she comes across very well. She's not a fantasy-teen with an impossibly thin frame; and neither is she mopey and consumed with questions of her place in the world. Instead, she's very believable both as Superman's protege and as someone with personal experiences of her doomed home planet. Much of this comes from Frank and Sibal, who give Kara the body language and expressions first of boredom, and then of creeping dread. For Supergirl, Brainiac is literally the bogeyman, and she's not too far removed from being a frightened child. Here's hoping we see more of this Supergirl in the future.

And yeah, Superman fights Brainiac too, in all its Terminator+Borg implacability. It's a virtually dialogue-free sequence lasting eight pages, and it wisely relies upon the art (no narrative captions, either). I used to be very hard on Geoff Johns, but he's really starting to find a good groove here. I wouldn't be surprised if he's growing more fond of his Action work than he is of Green Lantern, which by now must be very familiar to him.

Speaking of being particularly hard on something, Paul Dini will have to work overtime to convince me that Hush is a credible Bat-villain. His first effort, Detective Comics #846 (pencilled by Dustin Nguyen, inked by Derek Fridolfs) still falls short, although it's due more to Hush than to Dini. See, Tommy "Hush" Elliott was set up as an evil counterpart to Bruce Wayne: a bratty rich kid who tried to kill both parents but who blames Dr. Thomas Wayne (and, by extension, Bruce) for saving his mom's life. So -- stick with me here -- Tommy grows up to be a world-famous surgeon, engineers attacks on Bruce Wayne and Batman through Batman's greatest foes, and for some reason dresses in a trenchcoat, body-suit (with "H" symbol on the left breast), and hey-I'm-disfigured bandages around his head. Maybe he is disfigured now; I dunno. Anyway, Hush struck me as a collection of so-so ideas wrapped into a poor excuse for a supervillain. Consequently, I don't relish the idea of a five-part story focused on him.

However, "Heart of Hush" Part 1 does bring Catwoman back into the main line Bat-books, and Dini, Nguyen, and Fridolfs produce a neat story about Catwoman and Batman trying to bring down a much better idea for a wannabe supervillain, Doctor Aesop. That part of the issue was fun. Who knows, maybe the Hush parts will end up being worthwhile too.

Catwoman is, of course, a big part of Batman Confidential #19 (written by Fabian Nicieza, drawn by Kevin Maguire). This is the first part of the storyline which doesn't dwell on how she and Batgirl are Teh Sexxxay, and I think it allows everyone to settle down and concentrate on the characters themselves. I thought writer and artist had almost been working independently of one another the first couple of issues, so this was a good installment which advanced the plot well and also gave our heroines some good interaction.

I liked Booster Gold #1,000,000 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund) a lot. More about Booster's relationship with Rip than the cover-featured Peter Platinum, it serves as a nice wrap-up to Johns' time on the title. Booster gets closure on what he considers his failures, and an old cast member from the original BG series rejoins. Chuck Dixon comes aboard for two issues before the new writer debuts, and whoever that is will have a lot to live up to.

Green Arrow And Black Canary #10 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Wayne Faucher) is a Big Fight involving the League of Assassins' super-powered flunkies, Team Arrow, and Batman and Plastic Man. As these things go, it's choreographed well, although I'm not sure how close Dodger (a/k/a Smarmy British Rogue) is coming to Mary-Sue status. At one point, Speedy observes she's got "half the Justice League" on her side, which is a pretty accurate assessment; but the villains are credible enough that they don't go down too quickly.

Finally, of course I bought Trinity #6, but I spend enough time talking about that as it is. So far it's been reliably entertaining, and if it does something especially good or horribly bad, I'll let you know.
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Monday, July 14, 2008

Vive le blog!

If it's Bastille Day, it must be this blog's birthday ... or is that the other way around?

Yep, it's been four years since I started Comics Ate My Brain. In that time I've met a lot of great people, gotten a second blogging gig, and moved twice! Thanks to all who have visited, commented, or otherwise supported the site -- it's all appreciated, and it makes everything here worthwhile.

Okay, now back to work!
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Sunday, July 13, 2008

New comics 7/2/08

I've been saying for a while that DC should (once again) just let the Marvel Family have its own little corner of the Multiverse where Billy and co. don't have to age too quickly and whimsy can be the order of the day. Well, here's Mike Kunkel's Billy Batson And The Magic Of Shazam! #1, taking me up on it. Except not quite, because this is a Johnny DC title and therefore has no influence on the main-line Marvels. Instead, it's a sequel to Jeff Smith's Monster Society miniseries, picking up with Billy and Mary in their familiar roles.

Kunkel has redesigned Cap slightly, giving him a ridiculously broad chest and a how-you-doin'? look. This goes with Kunkel's take on Billy, who always tries to do the right thing but who realizes without much prompting just how good he has it. For example, Captain Marvel poses as Billy and Mary's father, but naturally favors Billy in parent/teacher conferences. Of course, hilarity ensues, especially since Kunkel shows that Mary is the smarter of the pair.

Kunkel also introduces Black Adam, but leaves the resolution of his subplot for a future issue. I haven't read hardly any of the Johnny DC books, but I suspect BBMOS is one of the few to employ multi-issue storytelling; and it makes me wonder who the real target audience is. This is a dense book which aims for rapid-fire delivery through small panels and packed word balloons. Not being 10 years old, I can't say whether this would appeal to kids, but it does seem like an older reader's idea of what a kid's comic book should be. Yes, that extends to the secret-code messages, which I thought were prohibitively long and which I still haven't tried to unscramble. Even so, I appreciated Kunkel's efforts, and I'll be back at least for the next issue.

Part 3 of "Batman R.I.P." hits in Batman #678 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea), in which our hero is reduced to his lowest point before meeting his spirit guide (did it have to be a Magical Negro?) and starting to rebuild. Also, other bad things happen to Robin and Nightwing (poor Nightwing...). Morrison's standard take on Batman in JLA was that "Batman always has a plan". Well, here, he's been completely cut off from his plans, thrown into a roiling sea of anarchy by the Black Glove, and made to put the pieces back together using stone knives and bearskins. As with Final Crisis, it's pretty nerve-wracking stuff, but at least we're at the halfway point.

I'm getting frustrated with House Of Mystery (#3 written by Matthew Sturges and drawn mostly by Luca Rossi). Its first arc seems determined to establish that Fig can't leave the House. However, we know this to be true, because that's the point of the book. Thankfully, that also seems to be the point of the issue, so I hope that settles it for Fig for a while. The issue does introduce a new antagonist, with a callback to the mysterious couple seen earlier, so maybe there'll be a more entertaining twist next time out. Still, if this arc ends only with Fig accepting her new status, I'll be pretty disappointed. I'm getting tired of books which take five issues to lay out what could have been one issue's worth of setup. I do like the art, though.

I'm also getting a little tired of Nightwing (#146 written by Peter J. Tomasi, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Sandu Florea), likewise because "Freefall" seems to have gone on for a couple issues too many. Yes, Dr. Kendall was a bad man; yes, it's good that Dick stopped him. However, the story seemed rather lifeless (no pun intended), and I don't know if that's due to Don Kramer's art not being quite as expressive as Rags Morales'; or Tomasi's talky scripts sapping the energy out of the action. Next up is a "Batman R.I.P." tie-in, so maybe things will pick up.

I did like Supergirl #31 (written by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by Jon Sibal and Jesse Delperdang), despite the jarring change in art style from the soft lines of Drew Johnson and Ron Randall to the quirkier combination of Walker et al. Basically, Supergirl convinces the dying boy's mother to accept the Resurrection Man's treatment by a) flying her to a distant mountaintop and b) telling her how her parents shot her into space. It's the kind of thing which has to be handled very carefully, because once superhero comics get into real-world ramifications of godlike behavior, they're already pretty far down a mighty slippery slope. This time I bought Supergirl's argument and the mom's response, but next time might be different. As it is, this time the argument had to get past Supergirl's bare midriff.

I continue to like Manhunter (#32 written by Mark Andreyko and drawn by Michael Gaydos). The current issue tracks Kate's continuing investigations into the women's disappearances, and features a couple of good scenes with Blue Beetle (super-suits hissing at each other like unfriendly dogs!) and Mr. Bones. Gaydos' art is "realistic" without sacrificing expression, and Andreyko has a good feel for the dialogue of a superheroic world.

Finally, I bought Star Trek: New Frontier #4 (written by Peter David, drawn by Stephen Thompson), the penultimate issue of the miniseries. Thankfully, things start to happen at a little more rapid pace this issue. However, the plot deals with duplicates of people; and the scenes shift so abruptly you're never sure whether, say, the Lefler who was on that planet is the same Lefler who's on this ship. I guess I have to get issue #5 to see whether the whole thing makes sense.
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New comics 6/25/08

You would not believe the week I have had. Actually, it's been more like two weeks.

Actually, you probably would believe it; but since a lot of it involves finishing up the 3-part Grumpy Old Fan look at DCU miniseries, 2001-08, it's kind of dull.

Regardless, it's been pretty busy for me in the Real World, so I'm on the road to recovery as far as this here blog is concerned. What say we get cracking on that backlog?

Obviously this week's big release was Final Crisis #2, which quite honestly scared me. When you have one of DC's major characters locked into an Apokoliptian torture machine and screaming "CALL THE JUSTICE LEAGUE!" to an apparently random person who wouldn't have any way of knowing how to do so, that's a pretty dire circumstance. Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones have thrown our heroes into the deep end of the pool and are now pouring even more water on top of them. It's not exactly a new thought to say this is the JLA arc "Rock Of Ages" from a slightly different perspective, but what makes it more immediate, and more scary, is the notion that it's happening right now, without the comfort of a reset button that the original had.

Superman #677 was the start of James Robinson's run as writer, and he chose to begin with heavy doses of Krypto and the Science Police troopers. I'm not looking for him to make this particular SP squad into a higher-tech O'Dare family, because clearly this isn't Starman and Robinson's not that repetitive anyway. Still, there are Starman-esque touches in the omniscient narration's bullet points and the characters' self-awareness; and they're certainly not unwelcome. The "new guy wants to replace Superman" story is pretty well-worn, though, so I'll be expecting some new twist from Robinson. On the art side, I have no complaints with Renato Guedes except that he (like Gary Frank) is using Christopher Reeve pretty clearly as Supes' model. While I love Reeve's Superman, actually seeing him in print pulls me out of the story.

What If This Was [sic] The Fantastic Four? (written by Jeff Parker, illustrated by various people) is a perfectly charming tribute to the late Mike Wieringo, postulating (for the second time) that the Spider-Man/Hulk/Ghost Rider/Wolverine team had stayed together. I encourage you to pick it up.

Back in the regular book, though, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch ... well, I think you know how I stand on their tenure so far. Fantastic Four #558 brings in the "New Defenders," a team with some similarities to the FF, who've captured Doctor Doom and apparently are less than charitable in dealing with them. There's also a new nanny whose subplot was pretty obvious to me from the moment of her introduction. Therefore, I have a pretty good idea as to how this arc will play out, but I am in fact curious to see what Millar will do with the issue's Big Revelation about one of the Richards clan. Otherwise, I wonder if the story would read any better with Alex Ross on art. That's how static Hitch and inker Andrew Currie's work seems to me now.

The newest Captain America meets the public in Captain America #39 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Rob De La Torre). The issue presents a familiar story about manipulating the public through imagery and superficialities, and it winds up similar to Superman #677. De La Torre is new to me, although he (augmented by regular colorist Frank D'Armata) preserves the book's quasi-realistic style. However, his Bucky is a bit more buff than, say, Steve Epting's, which was a little distracting.

Was I saying that Batman: Gotham After Midnight didn't know how seriously to take itself? With issue #2 (written by Steve Niles, drawn by Kelley Jones), it seems to be saying "not very." That's hardly a bad thing, mind you. This particular approach to Batman casts him as the scariest dude in the room, except for the scarier dude who's working behind the scenes. I'm still not completely on board with it, but I do give it credit for being true to a gonzo sensibility. Let's put it this way: if you like scenes where Batman is lit apparently by a noir-ish light source independent of everything else, you'll love this book.

About Green Lantern #32: "Secret Origin" continues, and I think we're up to the point where Hal gets hired officially by Carol Ferris. Honestly, though, we've been down this road so many times I'm just picking out the "Blackest Night" clues and letting the rest go by. It's not a bad story, but it's like hearing another cover of "Yesterday."

The same goes for Teen Titans #60, which concludes the Terror Titans arc. Our heroes triumph, but one of 'em leaves the team. While I didn't dislike it, I found Clock King and his minions to be rather boring, and I'm not eager to see 'em again.

I also bought Trinity #4 and liked it fine.

Back before you know it with the first new comics of July!

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