Wow, was this a big week:
- Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #57, by Tad Williams & Shawn McManus (DC)
- The Brave and the Bold #7 by Mark Waid, George Pérez & Bob Wiacek(DC)
- Countdown #28 of 52 (backwards) by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Al Barrionuevo & Art Thibert (DC)
- The Death of the New Gods #1 of 8 by Jim Starlin & Matt Banning (DC)
- Ex Machina #31, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
- SHAZAM: The Monster Society of Evil HC, by Jeff Smith (DC)
- Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers vol 84 HC, collecting The Avengers #59-68, by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Gene Colan & Barry Smith (Marvel)
- Primordia #1 of 3 by John R. Fultz & Roel Wielinga (Archaia)
- The Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite #2 of 6 by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
- The Boys #11 by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
So the latest Aquaman series comes to an end, with neither a whimper nor a bang. Both writers Kurt Busiek and Tad Williams took their sweet time developing the background of Arthur Curry, the new Aquaman, though at least Williams managed to tie up all the loose ends of previous writers in the series (although he left a few of his own). Although I was disappointed with Shawn McManus’ evolution of his art style as we saw in this series, it was overall enjoyable enough.
Aquaman has become something of a joke when talking about big-name superheroes. “Wow, he can swim and talk to fish, what a maroon!” “He can’t keep his own series, why does anyone bother?” “Okay, he was decent when Peter David and Grant Morrison were writing him, but otherwise he’s such a wuss!” And yet, DC keeps trying and trying with him, and his series actually last a pretty long time, as series go:
A lot of characters would kill to have that amount of exposure over the last 20 years. So Aquaman might be something of a joke to some fans, but clearly there’s some market out there for him. I bet he’ll have his own series again before the decade is out.
Although I lovedlovedloved the first 6-issue story in The Brave and the Bold, issue #7 fell completely flat for me, and the main reason was the characterization: Power Girl came off as a complete clod, and seemed completely out-of-character. Power Girl to me is strong and assertive, yes, but she’s not head strong and mindlessly aggressive as Mark Waid portrays her here. While she’s willing – even happy – to punch things when punching is necessary, and she can get frustrated at times, she’s often entirely reasonable and quite thoughtful, none of which is in evidence here. Instead she’s played as a humorous contrast to Wonder Woman, for whom Waid plays up the peaceful, reasonable side as she tries to keep Power Girl from going off half-cocked. Neither heroine comes off well in this story.
And the story itself is a one-issue tale which ties in obliquely to the Book of Destiny from the first storyline, and since it’s a pretty lightweight adventure, the characterization missteps means it really doesn’t work at all. It has a few of Waid’s trademark neat ideas, but that’s truly too little, too late. It’s a big disappointment.
Once upon a time there was a comics artist named Jack Kirby who created some pretty amazing characters, stories and artwork at a little up-and-coming company called Marvel Comics. In the 1970s he found himself disagreeing with some of Marvel’s policies and directions so strongly that he left the company that had been built on the back of his labor and moved to DC Comics, the heavyweight in the industry at the time. There he was given practically carte blanche to create a bold new direction for DC, although he mostly had to work around the established characters to do so. Although I think his ride there was a lot bumpier than he’d hoped, he still created dozens of characters and a milieu often referred to as the Fourth World, a world of gods, demons, scientists, monsters, and men from the past, present and future.
Although I realize many people have a fondness for Kirby’s 70s work at DC – which was essentially his swan song as a major creative force in the industry – frankly I think it was pretty awful stuff. As an artist and designer, Kirby was well past his prime, and his art looked pretty comical compared to his heyday at Marvel. He handled the scripting duties for many of his books, a task for which he was especially poorly suited – his dialogue at its best seems stilted, and often it just seems ridiculous. But worst of all, all the characters are basically just dumb. Darkseid is about as generic a villain as exists in mainstream comics, of all the New Gods only Mister Miracle is at all interesting (and he’s saddled with that ridiculous red-yellow-and-green outfit), and the various ancillary creations (OMAC, Kamandi, Project Cadmus, etc.) were not much good, either, feeling dated soon after they appeared. (John Byrne is a fan of almost everything Kirby’s done and keeps reviving Kirby’s 70s creations. While his OMAC mini-series was excellent, his other such revivals have been dodgy at best, in my opinion. In particular the integral use of Darkseid and company in his Generations III series really crushed the life out of its story, I thought.)
All of which brings us to Jim Starlin’s Death of the New Gods, which is either an idea whose time has come, or one of the supreme pointless endeavors in DC history. Maybe both. The story spins out of Countdown (a bad start right there) in which at least one New God has died, and the carnage starts right quick in this first issue, with one of the major New Gods being taken down in the first cliffhanger (to the dismay and anger of some).
Starlin was one of the best writers around at one time; his Dreadstar series was one of the best comics of the 80s. But I think those days are long past, as I’m hard-pressed to think of a series he’s done in recent years which set the world (well, my world, anyway) on fire, especially when he’s playing with corporate characters rather than his own creations. Death of the New Gods starts off being more portentious than exciting, and though it will play out over 8 issues, the combination of irrelevant characters and a writer/artist who I think is no longer at the top of his game, as well as the tie-in with a weak maxi-series “event”, doesn’t bode well for it being much good, and the leisurely pace of the first issue doesn’t help, either.
Jeff Smith is the creator of one of the best independent comics of the 90s, Bone. His latest project is SHAZAM!: The Monster Society of Evil, a new take on the classic Captain Marvel character, starting with his origin and his first adventure. Smith is so earnest and bring so much energy to his work that the sheer enthusiasm behind the book makes it a joy to read, and as always his artwork is terrific.
The story does falter in places. For instance, Captain Marvel seems to be a separate person from Billy Batson, but he sometimes acts like he’s inexperienced, and it’s not clear what’s going on. Also, Sivana makes a valuable deduction, but there’s no sign of how he does it – arguably he got tipped off, but that’s pretty weak reasoning. And the plans of the Monster Society don’t really make a whole lot of sense – why do they have to wait so long, and meet such byzantine conditions, to do what they want? I guess Smith is just trying to evoke the sense of relative silliness of the original Captain Marvel stories from the 1940s, and it doesn’t stop the book from being fun, but it make it feel like less than it could have – and should have – been. Smith was much tighter with his plotting in Bone.
Still I enjoyed it. Mary Marvel is a riot, the Monster Society’s main threats are perfectly menacing, Sivana is his usual conniving, snivelling self, and in perhaps his best moment, Smith turns Mr. Talky Tawny – Captain Marvel’s tiger friend – into a character with dignity and some depth.
DC’s had a difficult time integrating Captain Marvel into their mainstream continuity, possibly because his happy-go-lucky world of bright colors and improbable characters just doesn’t mesh with the more serious characters and concerns of the DC universe. He feels more at home in his own milieu, and for that as much as anyway, we can thank Jeff Smith for giving him a place where he can be himself.
Comics I Didn’t Buy:
Apparently a new issue of Fables came out this week and I missed it. I’ll pick it up next week.
I passed on Marvel Zombies vol 2 #1 (Marvel, natch). The first series – written by the irrepressable Robert Kirkman – was amusing and surprisingly gory for a Marvel comic, but I think it pretty much explored everything worthwhile about this particular schtick. I might thumb through this series in the store, but I don’t want to spend money on it.
I also thumbed through the Capes vol 1: Punching the Clock TPB (Image), which is also written by Kirkman, with art by Mark Englert. This takes place in the Invincible universe, and it’s about a superhero company – heroes who, as the title says, punch a time clock and work regular hours. It seemed like a pretty lightweight story, with awkward dollops of sexual innuendo, but mainly I passed on it because Englert’s artwork just didn’t work for me. It reminded me a lot of Erik Larsen’s art, which is too cartoony and exaggerated for my tastes, only I don’t think Englert has Larsen’s sense of form or layout; everything looked very stiff.