This Week’s Haul

Actually 2 weeks’ worth of stuff, since I was on vacation for a week:

  • Astro City: Astra #1 of 2, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Green Lantern #46, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #31, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #15, by Matt Wagner & Michael Wm. Kaluta (DC/Vertigo)
  • Power Girl #5, by Jimmy Palmotti, Justin Gray & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Sleeper: Season Two TPB, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Wednesday Comics#12 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Immortal Weapons #3 of 5, by Rick Spears & Tim Green II, and Duane Swierczynski & Hatuey Diaz (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #18, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Wesley Craig (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #135, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
  • Nova #29, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Kevin Sharpe & Nelson Pereira (Marvel)
  • Echo #15, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • The Pound #1, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #1 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Invincible #66, by Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker (Image)
Astro City: Astra #1 If you haven’t read Astro City before, or the long delays in publishing The Dark Age have put you off it (or if you just didn’t like it, which I could believe), then this 2-part special Astra is a good point to jump on. Astra is the daughter in a Fantastic Four-type team of superheroes, having previously appeared as a young girl in a good 2-parter a decade ago. Well, now she’s all grown up and is graduating from college, trying to figure out what she wants to do next. You’d think this would be easy for a world-famous superheroine and theoretical in-line-for-the-throne of two exotic kingdoms, but it’s more complicated than that for Astra. This story is very much in keeping with Kurt Busiek’s explorations of the personal nature of living in a world with superheroes.

As Mike Sterling notes, the cover of this issue isn’t a great advertisement for people seeking out the comic; it’s a cute idea, but for a series now trying to reestablish itself on a regular schedule, they should have gone with something more traditional.

Sleeper: Season Two I quite liked the first volume of Sleeper, so I snapped up the second volume as soon as it came out. The first was about a superpowered character, Holden Carver, who was put into deep cover by his spy organization into an international crime organization, but when his boss went into a coma he was left on his own and had to grapple with the fact that he probably wasn’t going to come in from the cold but he wasn’t one of the bad guys either, even though he started to befriend several of them. At the end of that volume, two things had happened: He had pretty much given up on ever coming back to the side of the good guys and had risen in the ranks of the crime group, and his former boss came out of his coma.

So while the first volume followed Carver’s descent into darkness as he adjusted to being on the side of the devils, the second volume dangles hope of redemption in front of him, even as he realizes that the guys he used to work for weren’t exactly angels themselves, and that the only way out is to somehow get away from both of them – a good trick since the leaders of both groups are highly talented planners and manipulators who are using him as a double agent to get at each other.

Although the novelty of the idea has worn off by this volume, Ed Brubaker still spins an intense yarn as Carver plays both ends against the middle in an intensely dangerous game, trying to out-think the thinkers, and bringing the series to its conclusion. As I said in the first volume, it required a big finish, and it gets one, although Carver’s ultimate fate ends up being a little disappointing (Zack Overkill’s ending in Incognito was much more satisfying). But Brubaker’s hard-edged plotting means he really has few options available unless he decides to change some of the rules at the last minute, which isn’t the sort of thing he does; Brubaker always does his best to play fair with his readers. Sean Phillips’ art is terrific, as always, not too flashy (and the super-beings in the story don’t have flashy powers), and very, very dark, as befits the story. If you like Michael Gaydos’ artwork (e.g., on Marvel’s Alias), well, Phillips’ is all that and a lot more.

Sleeper might be Brubaker’s best work, but not by much; Criminal and Incognito were both very good, too. In any event, if you like dark superhero stories and criminal noir yarns, then you should definitely check out Sleeper. It took a while, but Brubaker’s definitely won me over as a fan.

(Hmm, I wonder if this means I should check out Brubaker’s mainstream work for Marvel? I read X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire and thought it was okay, but his Captain America series has been very well received and I haven’t done more than thumb through that.)

Wednesday Comics #12 With the final issue of Wednesday Comics, I’ll run down the series, in order from what I think was best to worst:

  1. Flash: Clearly the top of the class of the series, Karl Kerschl played around with story structure, sometimes a little too much, and the ending felt abrupt and a little confusing. However, his artwork was solid-to-excellent, and his handling of the characters of Barry and Iris evoked the Flash’s adventures of the 60s and 70s without feeling dated. I’ve never seen Kershl’s work before, but I’ll keep an eye out for it in the future.
  2. Strange Adventures: I’ve had mixed feelings about Paul Pope’s work in the past, and the first half of the story here felt pretty pedestrian, a straightforward “back to basics” yarn for Adam Strange (who originally was just a step away from being a rip-off of John Carter of Mars). Pope won me over with the second half, with the twist he threw in (Strange is an aged archaeologist on Earth, a young hero on Rann) and how he worked it into the story. He brought it in for a graceful landing, and made me think I’d be happy to read an Adam Strange (or Doctor Fate) series by Pope. Well done.
  3. Supergirl: Jimmy Palmiotti’s story was light and amusing, and had no pretensions of being more than that. Conner seems to be the ideal artist for Palmiotti’s flights of fancy, as we’ve seen in Terra and Power Girl. The last page has a cute twist to it. It’s a big step down from the two stories above, but I still enjoyed it.
  4. Kamandi: I’m not a fan of Jack Kirby’s DC creations, as I’ve said many times before, and Dave Gibbons’ story is trivial and generic. What raises this series above the others is Ryan Sook’s amazing artwork. I’ve seen him develop for a few years now, since his work on Mike Mignola’s Jenny Finn, and this is hands-down the best work he’s ever done. If he’s up for a monthly book, someone ought to pair him with a top-flight writer and put him on a top property, because he’s really that good.
  5. Deadman: An uneven story by a couple of guys I’m not familiar with. It seemed to evoke the Dini/Timm animated cartoons in its look, and it was a pretty straightforward Deadman story overall; it would have fit in well with his shorts in Adventure Comics circa 1980. Pretty good, not great.
  6. The Demon & Catwoman: This story meandered all over the place, and felt like a rehash of any number of Demon stories I’ve already read. Brian Stelfreeze’s art was interesting, since I’ve don’t think I’ve seen him do line art before, just painted work. I’d be happy to see more of it. A few nice moments sprinkled through the otherwise pedestrian script, though.
  7. Green Lantern: A yawner of a script by the usually-reliable Kurt Busiek, although Joe Quinones’ New Frontier-esque art was good. Like the previous story, it had a few good moments sprinkled in, but this was a run-of-the-mill series.
  8. Metal Men: Also run-of-the-mill, which was probably more than most people expected from Dan Didio, whose fiction writing I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Jose Luis Garcia Lopez is always good for some boffo artwork, though.
  9. Sgt. Rock: Utterly routine story by Adam Kubert, with art that looked like it was phoned in by Joe Kubert. Too bad.
  10. Metamorpho: Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred mostly play around with story structure, very self-consciously. The basic story wasn’t very much, and the structural experiments weren’t very interesting to me, so I don’t count this as a big success. A nice try, though.
  11. Hawkman: Mostly-lovely artwork by Kyle Baker completely sunk by his wretched story and awkward script, complete with an abrupt ending. Probably the biggest disappointment in the series.
  12. Teen Titans: A “nice try” of the story with a twist that came too late to save it, and artwork in a style that doesn’t appeal to me, with an unsympathetic coloring job. The last page doesn’t even feel like an ending, and it ends on a clichĂ©.
  13. Batman: Nice Mazzucchelli-esque art, but Azzarello’s script meandered around the edges of the story, going for a noir feel without any of the impact I expect from noir-ish stories. And ultimately I just didn’t care about the story being told, as the characters were too superficial.
  14. Superman: John Arcudi’s story, about aliens making Superman doubt his identity, just felt completely wrong for the character, so wrong that even revealing what was going on didn’t make me believe in it. Lee Bermejo’s art didn’t work for me at all, with a coloring job that made the pictures look ridiculous. This one just missed on every level, and it didn’t even feel like a Superman story. An Atomic Skull story would have been a step up.
  15. Wonder Woman: Ben Caldwell seems pretty talented (this is my first exposure to his work), but his approach to this story didn’t work for me at all: Way too many panels, very little detail, too many words, and layouts that rendered the whole thing basically unreadable. He seemed to be actively working against the format. I think I gave up after the second page.

So what about the package as a whole? Well, it was very uneven, and it was disappointing that only 3 of the 15 stories were more than mediocre, and there were so many that were just blah, indeed that fully a third of them were downright bad (okay, Sturgeon’s Law applies, but still, disappointing). The art in the series was generally good, but the writing really fell down, time after time, either trying and failing to be meaningful (Superman), being too lightweight (Green Lantern, Metal Men, Sgt. Rock), or trying to be clever about working with the format but failing (Batman, Hawkman). The best strips told stories with their own unique twists or structure, which worked within the page-a-week format but weren’t self-conscious about it.

If DC tries an experiment like this again, I doubt I’d pick it up unless it looks like they’re putting a new twist on it, or the stories appear to be significantly better. Overall I don’t think Wednesday Comics was a successful experiment, and I think it will be quickly forgotten. So far DC hasn’t come close to the artistic success of 52 in their later weekly series.

The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #1 Last month, I was disappointed in the ending to the first series of Mark Waid’s The Unknown, as the story ended in an unsatisfying manner. But this first issue of the new series has me excited for what Waid is doing.

In the first series, James Doyle is hired as an assistant and bodyguard to Catherine Allingham, the world’s greatest detective – who has six months to live. Naturally she’s become fascinated by things involving life extension, death, and the soul, perhaps obsessed. In this issue, Doyle is on his own, being hired as a security guard for a park where Allingham will also be present – but Doyle has no memory of meeting her. Moreover, it’s a year later. And Allingham is hiring a new assistant. Doyle starts to regain his memory, and realizes that many things are not right, and he starts investigating why.

This is quite a hook for the series, and explains why the first series was merely set-up; in its way, it’s as big a revelation as the big surprise in Invincible ten issues in, only here it’s the set-up for the story going forward. On top of that, this issue ends on a big cliffhanger.

Waid’s got me. I’m hooked.

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