- The Brave and the Bold #30, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
- Ex Machina #47, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
- Fables #91, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
- Green Lantern Corps #43, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman & Tom Nguyen (DC)
- Power Girl #7, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
- Astonishing X-Men #33, by Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning (Marvel)
- Incorruptible #1, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
- The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #3 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
The fourth issue of J. Michael Straczynski’s The Brave and the Bold is a little better than the first three. The plot works like this: Some years ago Doctor Fate encountered Green Lantern (the Hal Jordan version) at a point when Fate was feeling a little uneasy about his role in the universe. He imprinted a piece of himself in Green Lantern’s ring with the intent that it will emerge sometime in the future, and then return to the past to inform him of how his life has turned out in the intervening years. So in the present day, GL has gotten into trouble on a dead world when the Fate aspect emerges, and together the two of them work to help GL escape safely, but at the cost of the Fate aspect not being able to return to his originator. This is a small tragedy since this Doctor Fate – the original, Kent Nelson – has died years since, and GL suggests that maybe by going back, the aspect could help the original Fate survive.
The story is rather contrived, relying on some pretty obscure continuity details, but glossing over some other continuity details (such as that GL probably doesn’t have the same ring he had years ago, due to his own convoluted history). But the spirit of the story works pretty well.
Unfortunately, Straczynski’s run on the title has been dragged down by exposing many of his weaknesses as a writer. To start with, when Mark Waid launched the series a few years ago, he put a new spin on the book by writing an epic story which featured a large cast, whereas Staczynski has been writing one-off character pieces pairing a major hero (Batman, Flash, Green Lantern) with a lesser one (Doctor Fate is the biggest name among these; the others have been Dial “H” For Hero, the Blackhawks, and Brother Power the Geek). Straczynski seems to have a weakness for these little character pieces, and they worked fine in Babylon 5 as a break from the larger story, but a steady diet of them makes the title feel, well, trivial.
Straczynski is known – rightly or wrongly – for writing weak or stilted dialogue. I mostly think his dialogue is fine, but B&B seems filled with some of the most overwrought narratives I can recall him writing, mixed with some flagrantly inappropriate dialogue for the characters in question. The set-up for this story seems contrived for Fate to get in a zinger about GL’s ring not working on the color yellow, which is very much against character for Fate. The story also ends with a lengthy monologue by Fate in the past wondering what happened to his aspect, which also feels very un-Fate-like. The line between Doctor Fate’s character and Kent Nelson’s has always been fuzzily drawn – on purpose, I think – with the character acting very differently depending on whether he has his mask on or not, and Straczynski seems to tear down the divide here, having Fate speak with Nelson’s voice, a development which just doesn’t ring true for the character. This feels especially wrong since it occurs just two pages after Fate took off his helmet to speak with Nelson’s voice, underscoring the difference between the two sides of the character. Straczynski seems to be forcing the character to fit his story, rather than writing to the character, and it hurts what in general is a fine story.
The brightest light in the issue is the development of Jesus Saiz as the artist. A few issues ago his art felt generic and even stiff, but this issue flows beautifully and has a smoothness and use of shadow and expression that goes some way to compensate for the dialogue, especially since the story is mostly two guys standing around and talking to each other. It’s a nearly-unprecedented pace of development for an artist, and it does make me curious to see where he’ll go next.
Power Girl reintroduces the character Vartox, who in the 1970s (before DC rebooted everything) was a rival with Superman for Lana Lang’s attentions. Amanda Conner even draws an homage to the cover of Vartox’s first appearance, and the character still has his extra-cheesy 1970s porn star outfit. In this issue, Vartox’s world becomes sterilized, so he comes to Earth to court Power Girl to be his mate, to start repopulating his world. You can imagine how this goes over with PG, and Vartox is also unspeakably stupid in the stunts he uses to try to woo her, resulting in a powerful and destructive alien being released on Earth.
Greg Burgas loved this issue but I was disappointed. Gray and Palmiotti’s writing on Power Girl has been filled with jokes and themes about Power Girl’s body and sexuality, and while I don’t expect a PG title to never have such things, it’s been just one after another in this series. And her adventures have been fairly trivial: Another fight with the Ultra-Humanite, who wants to put his brain in her body, a group of spoiled rich space girls who come to Earth to have fun, and now Vartox. It’s become a one-note series, and the note is sounding pretty flat.
What I’d like to see in Power Girl is more attention to her being the CEO of her own company (in her secret identity), more time mentoring the young heroine Terra, and some threats with some real weight behind them. There’s a lot of good material to work with here, but instead it’s one lighthearted adventure after another, and not even particularly clever ones.
Yeah, yeah, Amanda Conner’s art is still terrific, but that can only take the book so far.
Mark Waid’s bid to take over the world from Boom! Studios continues with his third title from the company, Incorruptible a spin-off of his excellent series Irredeemable. (His other series, The Unknown also has a fine issue out this week.) Where Irredeemable was about a Superman-like hero going bad for reasons still being explored, Incorruptible is about one of the foremost super-villains going straight and becoming a hero after the Plutonian went bad. The main character is Max Damage, who shows up in this issue after an extended absence to take down his own gang and turn them into the police. He then takes a detective to his lair where he shows him the millions of dollars in his vault – before torching it all as tainted money. Naturally this doesn’t make his sidekick, Jailbait, happy; she’s an underage girl who used to be Max’s lover, and now he’s toeing the straight-and-narrow, while she was happy with a life of crime.
It’s a hell of a set-up, and Waid packs a lot into this first issue, with the promise of plenty of mayhem and ethical dilemmas in Max and Jailbait’s future. Jean Diaz draws the hell out of the thing, the main flaw being some flat expressions, but hopefully that will change with experience. Incorruptible has every sign of being as solid a book as Irredeemable, showcasing Waid’s strengths as having a deep understanding of what makes superheroes work, while being interested in taking them in new directions while staying within the main conventions of the genre. No one in the industry does that better than Mark Waid.