This Week’s Haul

A couple of good hardcover collections this week: The new Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers volume collects the Kree-Skrull War story from the early 1970s, with terrific art by Neal Adams, and surrounding stories with fine work by Barry Windsor-Smith and the Buscema brothers. The sprawling, deep-space story is a tad disappointing by today’s standards, but it was state-of-the-art at the time.

And then, West Coast Avengers Assemble is still a rollicking good time, chronicling the formation of the splinter team in the early 1980s, it’s some of Roger Stern’s finest writing, and a fine follow-up to Mark Gruenwald’s Hawkeye story, collected a year or so ago. The team of relative lightweights putting together a plan to take out one of Marvel’s most powerful villains is one of the best examples of brains-over-brawn in superhero comics history. This was probably the last high point of the Avengers until Kurt Busiek’s run 15 years later.

And with that, on to the regular stuff:

  • Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #2 of 6, by Grant Morrison & Frazer Irving (DC)
  • Green Lantern #54, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Green Lantern Corps #48, by Tony Bedard, Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #23, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (DC/Vertigo)
  • Power Girl #12, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers HC vol 137, collecting The Avengers vol 1 #89-100, by Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, Sal Buscema, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Tom Palmer & others (Marvel)
  • Avengers: West Coast Avengers Assemble HC, by Roger Stern, Bob Harras, Bob Hall, Al Milgrom, Luke McDonnell, Don Hudson, Brett Breeding, Joe Sinnott & others (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #579, by Jonathan Hickman, Neil Edwards & Andrew Currie (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #6, by Mark Waid, Horacio Domingues & Juan Castro (Boom)
  • The Mystery Society #1, by Steve Niles & Fiona Staples (IDW)
The guys over at Comics Should Be Good (Brian Curran: “Irving’s artwork is stunning on the comic.”; Greg Burgas: “Irving’s art is the best part of the book, as it’s always a treat to see it”.) are praising Frazer Irving’s art on The Return of Bruce Wayne #2 about as highly as anything they’ve reviewed, but I don’t see it. It’s not awful, mind you, and the splash page is pretty nifty:

(click for larger image)

But the layouts and compositions are pretty bland, and Irving’s style is decidedly over-rendered. Plus his faces range from vaguely-human to comically-grimacing. A few panels that made me raise my eyebrows for these reasons:

(again, click for larger images)

If Irving were drawing the whole series it might not look so strange, but following the very different – and far superior – Chris Sprouse work on the first issue, it’s a big come-down. But, diff’rent strokes and all that.

The story’s pretty good, although it felt very similar to some other stories: The basic structure of a witch-hunter not exactly beloved by even his friends much less the local townsfolk (the role the amnesiac Bruce Wayne plays here) feels virtually lifted from Tim Burton’s film Sleepy Hollow. The character of Annie, the nonconformist who lives in the woods and rescues and falls in love with Bruce, feels much like Madame Xanadu in the story in her own series a year or so ago, in which she was living a similar life during the Inquisition in Spain. The stuff involving Superman and the others is the most interesting part of the issue, especially as Morrison’s telling that end of the story in a non-linear fashion. His depiction of Batman as smarter than, well, anyone, gets a little tiresome, though, and taking that to its logical conclusion as is suggested here is kind of ridiculous.

Power Girl has been a series of lighthearted fun, terrific artwork by Amanda Conner, but the stories by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have been total fluff. (You know when you bring out Vartox half a year into your run that you’re not really set on accomplishing anything substantial.) And now, issue #12 is the last of the run by these three. Am I sad to see them go? Well, sorta – mainly Conner, who’s as distinctive an artist as is working at DC these days – but the series never felt like it was living up to its potential, or really even trying.

The last issue is rife with cheesecake (is this awkward, or is it “okay” because it’s drawn by a woman?), but otherwise enjoyable: It brings back most of the supporting cast (yes, even Vartox) for their own scenes, but mostly focusing on Terra, who’s basically PG’s BFF, where we meet Terra’s parents (who are about as peculiar as you’d expect people from an underground city with future-science to be). It wraps up back at PG’s company, which we haven’t seen nearly enough of during the run. It’s a feel-good issue, and enjoyable for what it is.

Comparing Power Girl to Geoff Johns & Dan Jurgens’ run on Booster Gold seems apt: Both are second-string characters given a new title with a solid artist (Jurgens can be a little stiff, but he’s by no means bad). But Booster’s series both felt weightier and meaningful without being depressing, and it felt like it progressed over time. Power Girl’s series just felt like a set of random encounters, and that she basically ended up in the same place where she started. Sure, Booster could have been a little more fun, but it still had some wit and charm to it, while Power Girl just didn’t have any depth. I was sad to see Jurgens leave Booster (especially when I saw what Giffen & DeMatteis were going to do with it), but I’m not really sad to see this team leave Power Girl, other than losing Conner’s artwork, because I’m hopeful the new writer will give the series some more substance.

All-in-all, there were far worse ways to be spending your three bucks a month for the past year than on Power Girl, but that’s not really a strong epitaph.

Hahaha! I was a little doubtful of The Mystery Society going in – I’d heard of Steve Niles, but I don’t think I’d read anything by him – thinking it sounded like a knock-off of Hellboy, but I guess it’s all in the execution: This first issue is stylish and funny and in a completely different way from Hellboy.

The premise is that a husband-and-wife team, Nick and Anastasia, form a group to investigate supernatural mysteries. The issue opens with Nick going to jail for something, and volunteering to tell the beginnings of the society. Cut to one of Nick’s first missions, breaking into a high-security government facility to rescue a pair of twins, exchanging banter over the phone with his wife along the way, as she welcomes (a little awkwardly) an applicant to join their team. Nick and Ana have a playful back-and-forth that I think deliberately evokes the old Thin Man movies, barely taking things seriously, yet Nick at least seems to be taking things very seriously indeed under his enthusastic exterior.

Fiona Staples’ artwork is rough around the edges – the backgrounds are a little skimpy, the inking a little sketchy – but her art has an exuberance that matches the story and the characters. It sounds like Niles has some interesting plans for this series, so I hope she sticks around and we see her develop as an artist.

As origin stories go, the first issue of The Mystery Society is a cut above. I’m looking forward to the second issue.

This Week’s Haul

If not for Atomic Robo, it would have been an all-DC week for me!

  • American Vampire #3, by Scott Snyder, Stephen King & Rafael Albuquerque (DC/Vertigo)
  • Brightest Day #2, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado, Vicente Cifuentes, Tom Nguyen, Rebecca Buchman & David Beaty (DC)
  • Ex Machina #49, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
  • DC Universe: Legacies #1 of 10, bu Len Wein, Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert, Scott Kolins & J.G. Jones (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #1, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Zatanna #1, by Paul Dini, Stephane Roux & Karl Story (DC)
  • Atomic Robo and the Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #3 of 4, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
I’m a sucker for stories featuring the original Justice Society members, so despite the goofy logo (which looks like the early-80s Legion of Super-Heroes logo) and the wacky perspective on Doctor Fate on that cover, I picked up DC Universe: Legacies #1 anyway. Writer Len Wein has been writing comics since the late 1960s, but he’s never really been associated with the JSA before, and honestly though he’s done some noteworthy work (he co-created the Swamp Thing and the “new” X-Men, for instance), his actual stories have never rocked my world. So I expected a decent enough story but nothing that I’d rave about.

The first story in this issue met those expectations, being a somewhat contrived story about a pair of boys working for various crooks in the late 30s, one of whom wants to get deeper into the criminal life, while the other one starts to idolize the mystery men popping up around the country and has second thoughts. They have a close encounter with Sandman and The Atom (and Sandman certainly feels very weird here after reading his less athletic adventures in Sandman Mystery Theatre) which feels a little too rah-rah from heroes to kids, to me. And the issue ends with the tone of a cliffhanger as to what the kids will do, although it’s pretty clear how it will turn out.

The second story, though, is much better: It involves a reporter looking into escapades of Doctor Fate and the Spectre around the same time, and being deeply skeptical of mystical heroes doing the impossible, and even uncovers evidence of fraud in their exploits. As a window on how the average man might have thought of genuine superpowered heroes when they first emerged, it’s actually quite clever and to the point.

As a whole the first issue of Legacies doesn’t equal the better “man-in-the-street” superhero comics like those by Kurt Busiek, and I don’t really know why it’s called “Legacies” from this issue (it just seems like an excuse to tell some period stories with the JSA), but overall it’s a solid first issue, with good art by the Kuberts and by J.G. Jones. With a 10 issue run, I’ll probably stick around for the whole thing.

Perhaps the most beloved era of the long-running series Legion of Super-Heroes was Paul Levitz’ run – mostly with Keith Giffen and Greg LaRocque – in the 1980s.

Beloved by many, perhaps, but not by me. With a few exceptions (mainly the earliest Giffen issues and the gorgeous art of Steve Lightle between Giffen and LaRocque), I found the whole thing rather cynical and depressing. Characters were altered for no good reason beyond recognizability (Timber Wolf, for instance, had been a heroic and tragic figure, but became a rather stupid Wolverine clone), were killed to no good effect (offing Karate Kid was one of the stupidest deaths in comics history, with no emotional impact whatsoever), wore some awful costumes (Element Lad’s nifty blue-and-green outfit was replaced by a pink outfit even worse than his original one), and the team gradually spiraled downwards from heroic figures in an exciting future world to one of death, destruction, grisly politics, and pyrrhic victories. (Keith Giffen then punctuated this after Levitz left with his grim “Five Years Later” stories.)

Compared to the Legion stories of the 60s and 70s – some of which were written by Levitz in his first go-round on the title – it was pretty weak and depressing stuff.

Now, after two reboots, the original Legion is back (thanks to Geoff Johns’ story “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes”) and in their own series, with Levitz returning for his third run, having recently stepped down from being President and Publisher of DC. A good thing?

One interesting twist is that it appears the events of the series after Levitz’ second run have been retconned to not have happened. Levitz writes a text piece at the end of this first issue where he explains that out understanding of the Legion’s era is constantly changing and some stories told in the past may have been inaccurate, or not have happened. It’s not only unusual, it’s a tacit admission by DC that the reboots of the last 20 years have been failures of approach as well as of substance, that they never captured the essence of what was once one of DC’s most popular titles. But then, DC’s been on a big retro kick lately, so going back to the 80s characters and their 80s writer fits right in.

But is the story any good? Well, sort of. Earth is trying to rejoin the United Planets, and the Legion is trying to reestablish itself on Earth in the wake of the xenophobia fostered by Earth-Man and his gang of psychopaths in the aforementioned Superman story. The issue opens with Earth-Man being drained of his powers, but then we learn that Earthgov is going to require that Earth-Man become a Legionnaire if the Legion is going to stay on Earth. Meanwhile, Saturn Girl visits her homeworld of Titan (yes, the moon of Saturn), where the Time Institute has also established itself, but some of their researchers commit the inevitable crime of viewing the dawn of the universe, which results in the destruction of Titan, despite the Legion’s best effort. Saturn Girl takes one of the last time spheres to find her missing twin sons. And lastly, Earth-Man is confronted with a mysterious entity from Oa and offered membership in the Green Lantern Corps.

There’s a lot of stuff here, and some of it is interesting, while some of it feels gratuitious (the destruction of Titan feels pointlessly sadistic, much as the destruction of Vulcan did in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film) or nonsensical (Earth-Man’s recent history includes throwing aliens into concentration camps, which makes Earthgov forcing him on the Legion seem downright sick and completely implausible unless Levitz is going to show Earthgov to be completely corrupt). Not to mention that the Time Institute researchers really should have known better than to view the dawn of time, given the chaos that act has caused in the past. So the story is shaky, with character motivations that are frustrating at best. Not the best start.

The high point of the issue if Yildiray Cinar’s artwork (and, secondarily, his name!). While some of his panels are strangely simplistic in their renderings, others are compelling in their composition and detail, especially the ones involving Brainiac 5. His approach is a little rough, but he shows a lot of promise.

Writing the Legion has always been a tall order due to the size of its cast, its futuristic setting, and its tenuous link to the rest of the DC Universe. Unfortunately Levitz’ approach to the series has always felt to me like it robbed the Legion of their inherent fun and sense of scope, and this first issue doesn’t make me optimistic that the new series will be an improvement. I’m sure I’m in the minority among Legion fans, though, as I think this series does feel very much like Levitz’ last run on the title. Strange that after 20 years it feels like there’s so little difference, but then, Levitz hasn’t done a whole lot of writing (on the Legion or any other title) in that span, so perhaps that’s not very surprising.

It is disappointing, though. I’d much rather have the fun Legion of the 60s and 70s back. But I guess the reboots tried to do that and they weren’t very successful, either. But was that because they weren’t very good, or because they didn’t feel like the real Legion?

I’ve been a lukewarm towards Paul Dini’s comics in the past, but Zatanna – which debuts this week – is quite fun, if a bit brutal, as it involves evil wizards killing a group of mobsters in some particularly brutal ways. But it also sets up Zatanna as a sort of consulting detective to law enforcement where magic is concerned, and something of an enforcer to keep the evil wizards in line. Zee’s been portrayed in the past as a more above-board counterpart to John Constantine, so that role suits her. She feels maybe just a tad too mysterious here compared to her past portrayals, but one could argue that she’s also just grown up some more since her days with the JLA and Constantine. It’s a promising start to the series.

Stephane Roux’s art is excellent, ably supporting Dini’s story. His work is a little reminiscent of Alan Davis’ and even more so of Ryan Sook’s (perhaps not a coincidence, since Sook drew the Zatanna series in Seven Soldiers). I hope he sticks around for a while.

What’s With This Weather?

In the 12 springs I’ve lived in the Bay Area I can’t recall it raining more than a trace amount as late in the spring as May, yet tonight we’re having our second substantial shower of the month. On May 17! And Debbi says it was showing for most of the day up where she works, closer to San Francisco! Bizarre!

Not that I mind that much, since I like the rain, but hopefully it won’t interfere with my biking to work tomorrow morning.

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been too busy lately to post much other than my usual comic book entries. We did get out to do a few things this weekend, though, notably the A La Carte and Art festival downtown on Saturday (otherwise known as “the small one”, as distinguished from “the big one” at the end of the summer), for which our friends Lisa, Michel and their daughter Isabella joined us.

I also downloaded the game store Steam, specifically so I could play Portal (free through May 24!), which is at least as much fun as I’d always suspected. A 3.8 Gb download is a bit much for my wimpy little DSL connection, though.

But that’s about it. The rest of the month will also keep me pretty busy, but hopefully things will quiet down come June.

Maybe it’ll stop raining by then, too.

This Week’s Haul

While there were a few good books this week – John Byrne’s Star Trek comics are still maybe the best Trek stories since The Wrath of Khan – this week seemed dominated by disappointing and downright bad comics. So much so that it makes me wonder, “Do I really still love this medium?” Well sure I do, but they can’t all be winners. And sometimes you end up – somewhat to your surprise – with a big bucket of losers.

  • Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1 of 6, by Grant Morrison, Chris Sprouse & Karl Story (DC)
  • Booster Gold #32, by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Chris Batista & Rich Perrotta (DC)
  • Fables #95, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • First Wave #2 of 6, by Brian Azzarello & Rags Morales (DC)
  • The Flash #2, by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul (DC)
  • The Unwritten #13, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #1 of 5, by Warren Ellis & Kaare Andrews (Marvel)
  • The Marvels Project #8 of 8, by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: King of Fear #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor #2 of 5, by John Byrne (IDW)
I’ve been pretty harsh on Grant Morrison’s comics over the last couple of years – Final Crisis in particular was nearly-pure drek – but The Return of Bruce Wayne, despite its bizarre conceit, is actually pretty good. The idea is that rather than being killed by Darkseid in Final Crisis, Batman was instead thrown into the past and – as we recently learned in Batman and Robin – has been somehow fighting his way back to the present. Now we see what he’s been up to, as in this issue he lands in the era of the cavemen where he falls in with a friendly tribe, and then avenges them after Vandal Savage’s evil tribe all-but-eliminates them. Then he mysteriously disappears into a body of water, just before Superman and others show up to try to save him (as I guess we’ll see in an upcoming Dan Jurgens mini-series), saying that if Batman makes it back to the 21st century on his own then “everyone dies”. And the issue ends with Wayne arriving in what appears to be Puritan England or America (though it’s hard to be sure).

Although vaguely evocative of some 1950s Batman time travel story, this is otherwise about as un-Batman-like a story as you can imagine, other than the fight with Savage, which is the highlight of the issue. It doesn’t really make a whole lot more sense than those old stories (in which Batman and Robin would travel through time or – if I recall correctly – to other worlds through hypnosis), as Wayne and the cavemen vaguely communicating through language makes no sense at all, nor (of course) does Batman disappearing through time, or various other details of the story. (It actually would have been pretty cool has Wayne become immortal by being exposed to the same meteor which made Savage immortal, and just living his way to the present, but that would have presented different problems.) But as a light adventure story it’s enjoyable enough. I think Morrison is once again being too clever by half to make it more deeply satisfying, though.

Much of the credit for the story’s success has to go to the always-outstanding Chris Sprouse on pencils. Sprouse has taken many a flawed story and made it enjoyable through the sheer strength of his artwork (Alan Moore’s Tom Strong, Warren Ellis’ WildC.A.T.s vs. Aliens), and I’d love to see him do more regular work or at least get paired with a first-rate story so he can shine even brighter. Someday, perhaps.

The Return of Bruce Wayne certainly isn’t a home run, but it’s got me intrigued, to see if Morrison can end up overcoming the weaknesses in the premise.

When I heard Keith Giffen was taking over writing Booster Gold, I’d had visions of him writing serious, weighty, dramatic material like he did for the excellent Marvel series Annihilation. I didn’t realize he was bringing J.M. DeMatteis and the execrable attitude of the awful Justice League International along with him. Yes, it’s just one stupid gag after another, wrapped up in a story of death and destruction as Booster goes to the 30th century to rescue an artifact from the planet Daxam just after Darkseid has turned all Daxamites into Superman-level killers near the end of the Great Darkness War.

At least they’re honest in the opening credits:

Have pity on poor Dan Jurgens, because Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis are back — ready to soul his cherished creation, just like they did back in the 80s! […] Dan Didio & Jim Lee should really know better.

Yes, they really should. This is an awful, tasteless story of bathroom humor (literally) while people are being massacred, and there’s nothing remotely funny about it. There’s a particularly macabre moment when Booster realizes that in flying off to deal with one threat, he’s left the people under his protection fatally vulnerable to another one – a moment of pathos which might have been effective if the rest of the issue hadn’t been such a piece of trash.

31 issues of pretty good stories, and these clowns destroyed everything it built up in a single issue. I’m so out of here after reading this.

I wasn’t a fan of the first issue of The Flash and I’m even less impressed with issue #2. While the notion of cops from the future coming back to arrest Flash before he commits a murder, the rest of the issue is not good. Starting with the scene in which Flash builds an entire apartment building in a couple of minutes after reading everything about construction from the library, which, okay, I suppose he could do, but it begs the question of why he doesn’t do this sort of thing all the time, indeed, if he’s that fast, why anyone poses much of a challenge for him in the first place.

Francis Manapul’s artwork seems even more sketchy and cartoony than in the first issue, especially the random civilian characters. I don’t find it attractive in the least.

I think I can only take another month or two of this unless it gets markedly better. I hope the current story wraps up by then.

(And wow, I often disagree with Chris Sims when it comes to comics, but I don’t think I could’ve been further from his opinion on this one.)

Did I mention there were plenty of awful comics this month? Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis is the third of Warren Ellis’ X-Men stories. Story-wise, it’s off to a weak start: Babies being born in a section of Africa are showing signs of being mutants right after birth, so the X-Men head off to check it out. That’s pretty much all that happens: The issue is otherwise just an excuse for mildly amusing banter among the heroes. This team of X-Men (Cyclops, Emma Frost the White Wueen, the Beast, Wolverine, Storm, and the young Armor) are interesting because almost all of them are adult, experienced, and have known each other for a long time, so they know each other’s foibles and quirks. Emma’s schtick mostly seems to be that she’s a bitch, but everyone else basically respects one another. Yet despite this, the banter is pretty superficial, and mostly seems to revolve around Emma (whom Cyclops has been sleeping with since Jean Grey died). Ellis’ snark can be pretty funny, but it doesn’t work here.

I’ve seen little of Kaare Andrews’ art before, and what I see here isn’t my cup of tea: Exaggerated figures, ugly faces, minimal backgrounds, and facial expressions that run from scowling to grimacing. His covers for the next two issues have taken some hits in the comics blogging community, but the cover to this one is no great shakes either: Not only is Emma’s pose utterly ridiculous (and grotesque – and there are plenty more shots of her exaggerated breasts inside the book), but none of the figures are interacting in any way, even to get out of each other’s ways; it looks like they were drawn separately and then pasted into a single frame.

If this is indicative of the whole series, I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it through to the end.

I’ve become a big-time convert to Ed Brubaker’s comics lately (I’ve just read a big chunk of his Captain America run this past week, and it’s terrific), but The Marvels Project, which wraps up this month, isn’t one of his best works. The title suggests it’s related to Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross’ seminal series Marvels, but it’s only tangentially related, covering the rise of Marvel superheroes in the early 1940s, up to the formation of the Invaders. There’s a framing sequence in the present day, the memories of one of the minor heroes of the era, which at first suggested there would be some sort of event the character’s memories would uncover, a greater purpose to the story, but it’s really just another secret history of those times.

The story’s well-told, and Steve Epting’s art is excellent, as it always is, but there’s nothing new here. It felt like a basically unnecessary series.

B.P.R.D. has been a long-running independent series, spinning out of Hellboy, where the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense tries to defend the world against, well, paranormal threats, particularly the ongoing plague of giant frog-men around the world, dating back to the first Hellboy story. Sameness set in on this series several years ago, and I’d just about given up caring, but there were indications that the series was heading to a definitive conclusion, and eventually a statement that King of Fear would wrap up the frog-men storyline.

So here we are, and it’s certainly not been worth the wait.

Honestly I have a hard time summing up what exactly has happened in the last few series, or even in this one. A couple of races of monsters have teamed up to try to conquer the world, a 19th-century occultist claimed that pyromancer Liz Sherman was crucial to saving the world, and the team ran into the accumulated forces facing them in this series… and then it all came to an end, in some way I can’t quite figure out.

King of Fear opens with Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and the crew preparing to assault the frogs, while Kate Corrigan heads to Austria to save the spirit of their teammate Johann Kraus, and free the spirit of the adventurer Lobster Johnson. In the second issue, Abe, Liz & company descend into the Earth, while Johann comes back to his ectoplasmic suit. Liz disappears, and in the third issue we see that she’s being given a vision of the future where the demonic forces have won and destroyed humanity, including her friends. Abe and company are captured by the allied forces of monsters, apparently being led by the dark entity from The Black Flame, who claims that in fact Abe is the spearhead of the forces which will take over the world. In the fourth issue, the entity suggests Abe is related to the frog-men, while Liz in her vision unleashes her flame, apparently destroying everything in the underground network where the rest of her team is.

Somehow, though, the heroes survive and are convalescing in the final issue, while the director of the Bureau, and Kate and Johann are being grilled by the United Nations. Its not clear how everyone else survived while all the bad guys were destroyed by Liz. Ultimately the UN re-ups the Bureau’s funding, and the issue ends with hints of future threats they’ll face.

Honestly, when I read the final issue I felt like I’d missed an issue, but I went and pulled out the first four, and I didn’t. Liz apparently just killed all the monsters, left her friends still alive, and disappeared from them. It’s about as far from as satisfying ending to 8 years worth of comics as I can imagine. Frankly, I feel kind of ripped off. But I guess it’s my own fault for ignoring my suspicions these last couple of years that the story really wasn’t going to go anywhere.

B.P.R.D.‘s basic problem has been that the storylines haven’t really carried any weight or really had any resolution or catharsis to them, so they just keep going on and on, and the characters don’t really change or develop (they just come and go). There’s just not much point to it, and it lacks the strong character, never mind the wit and excitement, of Hellboy himself. Neither any single character, nor the characters all together, can really carry B.P.R.D.. There are occasionally some nice moments, but as a whole it’s just kind of pointless and unsatisfying.

I’ve also been reading Sandman Mystery Theatre as it comes out in paperback collections, and like B.P.R.D. it is (mostly) drawn by Guy Davis. While Davis’ art took a while to grow on me (mainly because his characters mostly look a little dumpy and all tend to have large noses), it eventually won me over in SMT, largely because of the detail in his period work, and the fact that most of the Sandman characters are supposed to look like ordinary schmoes. Unfortunately his work hasn’t won me over on B.P.R.D., where his layouts and finishes all seem much more simplistic, his characters more cartoony, with faces that look squashed. It just didn’t work for me, and didn’t help elevate the story above its level.

So this is it for me with B.P.R.D., though I’ll probably stick with Hellboy for a bit longer (though it’s been no great shakes, either). B.P.R.D. always felt like it had potential for something cool to be right around the corner, but it never really delivered (save for the two side-stories 1946 and 1947, which really aren’t part of the regular series). Quite a shame, really.

This Week’s Haul

The longest-running story in Astro City came to its end after 16 issues and almost half a decade of sporadic publishing. I’m going to write a separate entry on The Dark Age since it’s a pretty meaty story, but that’s been obscured by its slow release schedule.

Meanwhile, fans of cartoonist Charles Addams might want to check out the recent publication The Addams Family: An Evilution, which covers Addams’ development of the family in his comic panels years before they appeared on television (never mind the silver screen), but which mostly consists of scores of cartoons of the family, including many which have never appeared before. If you’re a big Addams fan like I am (and if you’re not, then you should be!), then this is a fine addition to any cartoon library.

  • Astro City: The Dark Age book four #4 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Batman and Robin #12, by Grant Morrison, Andy Clarke, Dustin Nguyen & Scott Hanna (DC)
  • Brightest Day #1, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Pat Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado, Vicente Cifuentes, Mark Irwin, Oclair Albert & David Beaty (DC)
  • Secret Six #21, by Gail Simone & John Calafiore (DC)
  • Echo #21, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Incorruptible #5, by Mark Waid & Horacio Domingues (Boom)
  • Irredeemable #13, by Mark Waid & Diego Barreto (Boom)
  • Hellboy in Mexico, by Mike Mignola & Richard Corben (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #42, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Dreadstar: The Beginning HC, by Jim Starlin (Dynamite)
  • Ghost Projekt #2 of 5, by Joe Harris & Steve Rolston (Oni)
The first issue of Brightest Day is an improvement on the zeroth issue, but not by a lot: Giving each of the characters (and there are a lot of them) just a few pages to advance their individual stories doesn’t make for very interesting reading. Green Lantern and some of the other rainbow lanterns investigate the mysterious white lantern that’s appeared, and no-longer-Deadman continues to monitor the other resurrected heroes.

The two action sequences are the best ones in the book: Aquaman commanding dead sea life, and Hawkman and Hawkgirl trying to recover their unearthed original bodies (although the fact that Hath-Set is the one who recovered them has an air of, “What, this again?” to it). But otherwise this is the first chapter of not one but about 6 different stories, and none of them are very compelling.

It’s really hard to tell an ongoing story with an ensemble cast like this, and that 52 did it well was probably a fluke. Brightest Day is not off to a good start in either its plot or its characterizations. It’s got about 2 more issues before I decide it’s not worth it, because after getting burned by Countdown to Final Crisis, these sorts of books are on a short leash with me.

Both Incorruptible and Irredeemable have guest artists this month, coincidentally. (Or, maybe it’s not a coincidence.) Irredeemable fares better, as Diego Barreto’s art is pretty good (though it’s still a step down since Peter Krause has done such a strong job of establishing the look and feel of the series that his are just huge shoes to fill). Besides which, this issue largely flashes back to the days when the Plutonian went bad, which feels like ground already covered (even though it’s been covered haltingly and piecemeal); Mark Waid’s done such a good job suggesting what happened that actually showing it doesn’t really feel necessary, and this issue doesn’t really advance the story very much.

(That cover, by the way, looks like it could have been from an issue of Miracleman. Which actually makes me realize that the Plutonian started off as a Superman-like figure, but his darker, cape-less costume resembles that of Miracleman. Intentional?)

Incorruptible doesn’t fare any better, as Horacio Domingues’ cartoony style and heavy ink lines felt like they clashed with the heavy subject matter. The story is okay, involving Max Damage recruiting a young woman to stand in for his missing sidekick, Jailbait, to prevent his enemies from learning she’s left him. The notion of the main character needing to be near his sidekick to keep her safe is an interesting twist on the premise (I’m not really clear on what Jailbait’s powers are, if any), but the issue ends up being a series of dark humor moments as the reluctant stand-in is overwhelmed with the realities of Max’s life. It seems almost like a gag-a-day approach to writing a very dark story, and it felt awkward.

These are both very good series, but they both had an off-month.

This week’s “true comics geek” issuing is Dreadstar: The Beginning. This is essentially the prologue to Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar comic, most of it originally printed as a series entitled “Metamorphosis Odyssey” in Marvel Comics’ Epic Illustrated magazine back in the early 1980s.

Epic Illustrated was essentially aimed as a competitor to the artsy European mag Heavy Metal, and the content often felt similar. “Metamorphosis Odyssey” certainly fits right in: First of all, the art is painted rather than drawn, and about half the story is in black-and-white, with no apparent point to which pages are in color and which aren’t. (The collection faithfully reproduces this, which seems even quirkier in this format.) Second, the story is often told in the distance, circling around its characters and not letting us see them act in the moment very much until the second half. It’s a very self-conscious story, but one which is also trying to feel very spiritual. While Starlin has often written stories with a spiritual component, he’s never been very good at selling that aspect, and it feels awkward here.

Fundamentally, the story is one of loss, as the war-loving Zygotean race terrorize the Milky Way galaxy, and the last of the Osirisians, Aknaton, recruits three unusual individuals to trigger the Infinity Horn to end the Zygotean threat, but at great cost. He also recruits Vanth Dreadstar, a warrior wielding a powerful energy sword, to help him defend the three until they can do their jobs. It’s a simple story elaborately told, and it’s clear that Starlin quickly found himself won over by the battle-weary yet strong-willed Vanth, which is why Dreadstar ended up being the one to go on to his own series.

The volume includes two other prologue stories, he first being “The Price”, in which the bishop Syzygy Darklock receives tremendous power on his way to becoming Dreadstar’s greatest ally, but must pay an equally tremendous price to acquire it. The second is an epilogue which sets up the ongoing Dreadstar series, and introduces the telepath Willow, and feels like a side story other than that introduction.

As you can guess from my tone, I don’t think Dreadstar: The Beginning is a very impressive volume, even though it’s the lead-in to the best work of Starlin’s career. Starlin isn’t a very accomplished painter, and his brushwork seems to accentuate the flaws in his art style, making some of the quirky compositions and beefy figures look even more exaggerated; his style is much better suited for dynamic action sequences than for the more contemplative material here. And “Metamorphosis Odyssey” itself feels very experimental, but I don’t think it really succeeds in being a deep or satisfying story. Although I don’t think it was intended to be, it feels like backstory to the real tale. “The Price” is a genuinely strong story, one of the best Starlin’s done, but it’s hard to recommend the whole hardcover on its back.

While committed fans of Starlin or people curious about where Dreadstar got started might enjoy this volume, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, and in fact would suggest that people who haven’t already read Dreadstar start with collections of the regular series, as The Beginning is really not going to give you a good feel for what the hoopla was about.

Anniversary Weekend

Friday Debbi and I celebrated our 9-year dating anniversary with our traditional dinner at Don Giovanni (where we had our first date), and then ice cream at Rick’s.

We’d planned to then have a quiet weekend, but it ended up being surprisingly busy:

  • I finally took the time to do all the after-winter cleaning of the back yard, weeding and trimming and such. I’ve been doing a little here and there, but I got it all done this weekend.
  • Turned over the soil in the planter.
  • Debbi changed the sheets on the bed while I was doing that.
  • Stained the back section of the planter.
  • Bought and planted tomato and cucumber plants (surrounded by marigolds) in the planter.
  • Went to the comics shop for Free Comic Book Day.
  • Hit the library on the way home to pick up a book I had on hold.
  • Went to the farmer’s market on Sunday, bravely fighting our way through the hordes of morons to do so. I swear, every stupid driver and pedestrian in the area converged on the farmer’s market that morning.
  • Made a big shopping run to pick up clothes and bathroom items.
  • Went for a bike ride through the park, since I’d gotten our bikes tuned up on Friday.
  • Finally finished cleaning the last few things from when Dad visited.
  • Grilled herb-and-onion hamburgers, with grilled potatoes and carrots, while watching the Phillies beat the tar out of Johan Santana and the Mets on Sunday Night Baseball.

We did get some downtime in there (slept late on Saturday, dinner & reading at Cafe Borrone, random downtime on Sunday), but it was a busy weekend. We certainly got a lot done, and had some fun along the way, too, but it was hectic at times!

This Week’s Haul

  • Green Lantern Corps #47, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Tom Nguyen, Keith Champagne & Mark Irwin (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #38, by Bill Willingham, Jesus Merino & Jesse Delperdang (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #22, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (DC/Vertigo)
  • Victorian Undead #6 of 6, by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fantastic Four #578, by Jonathan Hickman & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • Invincible #71, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley & Cliff Rathburn (Image)
Green Lantern Corps has gone somewhat astray in the last year. While their involvement in Blackest Night was inevitable and even necessary, it moved the book away from its strength, that being the relationships among the Lanterns (although the events that led to Guy Gardner becoming a Red Lantern for a few issues were the highlight of their involvement).

This issue gets the series back on track, and is one of the best issues since the first year of the series, as the Lanterns mourn their dead, and then get on with their lives, some of them returning to where they were before the war, and others moving in new directions. And several Lanterns, notably Arisia, confront the Guardians over some things they don’t like about how the Corps has been changing, resulting in both Salakk showing that he’s more than the Guardians’ lackey, and the Guardians showing a little emotion for a change.

Hopefully this is the beginning of a return to form, and not being involved in big crossover events for a while. Although with issue #50 coming up, no doubt there’s one more big story on the way.

The “Prime Elements” quasi-arc in Fantastic Four wraps up this week, such as it was. As I’ve said recently, these 4 issues were entirely set-up and basically no resolution, character development, or much of anything else. Frankly, it’s been boring. The final page says that “the war of four cities” is beginning, as the alien Inhumans invade the Negative Zone (the evolved subterraneans and the hidden aquatic races aren’t involved yet). It’s all a little hard to credit, that we haven’t heard of any of these races before, or that there are enough members of them to cause real problems.

Hickman’s run began in a promising manner, but this arc has I think been far too low-key to be successful. He seems to have forgotten that FF is primarily an action comic, and introducing the ideas content in the midst of the action – which is how FF has traditionally worked – doesn’t seem to be his style. But his style doesn’t seem appropriate for the series. Something’s gotta give, and it’s either going to be Hickman finally kicking the series into gear, or me falling asleep and dropping the book.

Victorian Undead was a cute little series, basically a steampunk version of Sherlock Holmes mixed in with the ongoing zombie fad, where Professor Moriarty uses the remnants of a zombie outbreak decades earlier to both save himself from his encounter with Holmes in “The Final Problem”, and stage his conquest of Britain. There was more adventure than detection, and I don’t think Davide Fabbri captured the look of Holmes, Watson, Moriarty or (especially) Mycroft Holmes that well, although his general Victorian look was pretty good.

Compared to the other Ian Edginton series I’ve read, Scarlet Traces (which is awesome), this one has been merely mind candy. It was still pretty tasty, though. Not sure I’d bother with a sequel, however.

Matthew Hughes: The Gist Hunter and Other Stories

The Gist Hunter is a fun book which collects a number of Matthew Hughes’ short fiction, including all of the stories leading up to his first Henghis Hapthorn novel, Majestrum. While the Hapthorn novels can be enjoyed on their own, these stories explain how Hapthorn learned of the impending ascendance of magic in the universe, how his intuition became its own fully-formed personality, and how he acquired some of the paraphernalia he owns. There’s even an arc in these stories involving Hapthorn’s friend from another universe which is alluded to in the novels, but which is all over by that time.

The Hapthorn stories are mostly mysteries, very much in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes: “Mastermindless” introduces Hapthorn and reads a little more like a fable (everything happens because of a really bad decision someone made), as if Hughes hadn’t quite decided whether to take the character in a more grounded or a more magical direction. “Relics of the Thim”, “Falberoth’s Ruin” and “Thwarting Jabbi Gloond” all have nifty science fictional twists to their resolution. “Finding Sajessarian” and “The Gist Hunter” are more in the style of adventure stories, and are at the core of the character’s development leading up to Majestrum. Other than “Falberoth’s Ruin”, which I found a little mundane, they’re all fine stories.

The other series of stories here features the character Guth Bandar, also a resident of the far-future Archonate in which Hapthorn lives, but the two inhabit completely different regions of society: Bandar is a “noönaut”, who travels into humanity’s collective unconscious as a researcher and scholar. The three stories here check in on different points in Bandar’s career, as a student and later as an experienced traveller. They’re entertaining and clever, but don’t feel quite as rewarding as the Hapthorn stories, perhaps because they are merely snapshots of his career, ones which don’t flow into each other very smoothly. There is also a little too much feeling of “anything goes” in the stories, as Bandar falls prey to the whims of fictional deities, has various convenient spells at his disposal, and undergoes some rather creepy changes, such as turning into a pig. It doesn’t eel grounded in well-understood rules, which is a characteristic of stories which bothers me. I’ll see if the Bandar novel, The Commons, is more satisfying.

The remainder of the volume consists of standalone stories. “Go Tell The Phoenicians” is a nifty H. Beam Piper-esque first contact story, but the others are plain by comparison. But since the Hapthorn and Bandar stories making up most of the book, that’s not a big problem.

The Gist Hunter is great reading for a Hapthorn fan, and the jury’s still out (for me) on the Bandar stories. Overall, it’s a lot of fun.