- The Brave and the Bold: The Book of Destiny HC, by Mark Waid, George Pérez, Jerry Ordway, Bob Wiacek & Scott Koblish (DC)
- Justice Society of America #18, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Jerry Ordway, Mick Gray, Kris Justice & Nathan Massengill (DC)
- Legion of Super-Heroes #45, by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul & Livesay (DC)
- Madame Xanadu #3, by Matt Wagner & Amy Reeder Hadley (DC/Vertigo)
- Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #1 of 2, by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
- newuniversal: Conqueror #1, by Simon Spurrier & Eric Nguyen (Marvel)
- Nova #16, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
Although I loved the first volume in Mark Waid and George Pérez’s The Brave and the Bold (The Lords of Luck), I was not nearly as enthusiastic about the second one. Although The Book of Destiny reads better in collected form than as individual issues, it still shows all of its warts: It’s got a hodge-podge of characters thrown together for shakier-than-usual reasons (Ultraman?), and a plot whose villain’s motivation feels insufficiently crafted, with a sudden reversal at the end which also doesn’t work for me. But the big problem is that Waid’s characterizations – usually his strong suit – fail him badly here. His depiction of Power Girl in the first chapter is about as ham-handed as I can recall seeing, and the Flash/Doom Patrol story also features one-note characterizations which often feel contrived and out-of-place.
The best story in the volume is the short Hawkman/Atom yarn, although the beginning of the Superman/Ultraman one is pretty funny. And of course Pérez’s artwork is great, as usual, and if you’re losing George Pérez in the middle of a story – as happened here – you can’t do much better than replacing him with Jerry Ordway, who gets to pencil the finale.
It’s the artwork that motivated me to pick up the hardcover of this – well, that and the fact that I already owned the first volume in hardcover – but anyone else who wants to read the back half of the Waid/Pérez run on this title would probably do better to wait for the (cheaper) paperback. Overall, it was a big disappointment compared to the terrific first half.
Superman Beyond 3D is a 2-part story spinning out of Final Crisis #3, in which a Monitor, Zilla Vallo, plucks Superman from the side of Lois Lane’s hospital bed to take him outside reality on a quest to save her. She’s recruited several of his counterparts from parallel worlds to help: Ultraman, Captain Marvel, Overman (from a world in which the Nazis won World War II) and Quantum Superman (based on a combination of Captain Atom and Doctor Manhattan, it seems like). They end up in limbo – the place where forgotten characters go to live forever in obscurity – and learn about their nemesis, Mandrakk.
I’ve been pretty down on Final Crisis so far, and unfortunately this issue fits right in with that: It’s a bunch of gosh-wow stuff thrown together so that it makes no sense. Why bring together the five Supermen? Who thought bringing in Ultraman would be a good idea? (Although if you’re an Ultraman fan, that means you can get a double dose this week.) What exactly are they supposed to accomplish? Who is Zilla Vallo and why is this her fight? Why go to limbo? To be fair, it’s the first issue and arguably Morrison is going to explain it all in the second issue. Unfortunately, his track record suggests that a lot of it won’t be explained at all, it’s just there for the gosh-wow factor, but that’s not the reaction it gets from me.
Much of it also feels like old territory, too. The form of Limbo is certainly old news, whether it feels like it’s from Morrison’s own Animal Man of 20 years ago, or the Supremacy from Alan Moore’s Supreme, and in any event it feels a lot like the Bizarro world from All-Star Superman, and the concept seems like just a more depressing version of . Morrison references the Bleed, which is a Warren Ellis interpretation of the multiverse, and Morrison doesn’t add anything new to it here. And on top of this we have the silliness with some pages being in 3-D – a pair of 3-D glasses are included – which adds nothing to the story. (At least it wasn’t all in 3-D, or I’d have passed on it entirely.)
So the story isn’t very much. The art is sometimes very good, and sometimes rather iffy. I think I liked Doug Mahnke’s work best back when he was drawing The Mask, since his sense of shape and form gave his books a very solid feel, the exact opposite of the Image style which was prevalent in those days. He’s changed quite a bit since then, working more with shadows and layouts, and I think it hasn’t been a change for the better. Some of his pages look great – especially the two-page spread in which Zilla Vallo contacts Superman – but others look very awkward: Any page in which a character is grimacing or gasping or shouting or gritting their teeth, and their faces just look deeply unnatural (which means that Ultraman always looks unnatural).
It’s weird to think that Grant Morrison, who’s usually one of the more innovative ideas men in comics, seems to be retracing the steps of Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, and himself, but that seems to be what’s happening. But this could still be a pretty good story, except that Morrison seems to have lost sight of giving the readers a reason to care. Superman’s supposedly doing this to save Lois, but what ‘this’ is he doing? And the adventure is all too metaphysical to have any emotional resonance (not really surprising, as emotional resonance has never been Morrison’s strong suit). Is this story really going to matter? My guess is no.
newuniversal: Conqueror is another one-shot providing background to Warren Ellis’ newuniversal series, this one taking place in 2689 B.C., when a White Event has given several individuals in this primitive world the powers of the New Universe heroes we’re seeing play out in the main title. In this story, one of the empowered characters has gone badly wrong, and he’s manipulating the others for his own end, to the detriment of the timeline. The beings from outside the timeline are trying to warn the others, and this issue is mostly about the Star Brand character – the Conqueror of the title – trying to figure out what’s going on.
It’s a story of small scope, and it works on those terms, although I found the ending to be too abrupt and unsatisfying. Eric Nguyen’s art has a sketchy quality to it, but it works for me in the gloomy atmosphere it brings to the story – although as with many artists these days (it seems), he needs to work on drawing background so the story doesn’t seem like it’s taking place in mid-air.
newuniversal is quietly becoming one of the more intriguing mainstream comics. I hope Ellis keeps with it and sees it through to a conclusion. (Of course, I’m still waiting for that last issue of Planetary…)