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This Week's Haul

  • Batman Beyond #2 of 6, by Adam Beechen, Ryan Benjamin & John Stanisci (DC)
  • Brightest Day #6, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Scott Clark, Joe Prado, Vicente Cifuentes, David Beaty, Mark Irwin & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • DC Universe: Legacies #3 of 10, by Len Wein, Scott Kolins, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Dave Gibbons (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #41, by James Robinson, Mark Bagley & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #3, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Francis Portela & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Power Girl #14, by Judd Winick & Sami Basri (DC)
  • Time Masters: Vanishing Point #1 of 6, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Zatanna #3, by Pail Dini & Stephane Roux (DC)
  • Dynamo 5: Sins of the Father #2 of 5, by Jay Faerber & Júlio Brilha (Image)
Well, now I know the answer to my question last time about how DC Universe: Legacies was going to bridge the gap between the golden age heroes retiring in the early 1950s, and the fact that the modern heroes – given that they’re between 25 and 45 years of age today in 2010 – couldn’t have become active until about 1990 (or later): This isn’t taking place in the regular DC Universe (despite the title), because Superman and the rest of the Justice League come on the scene in the 1950s and 60s, complete with fashions appropriate for the era (courtesy of the always-great Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez on pencils, although Dave Gibbons – himself a terrific artist – is perhaps not the most sympathetic inker for him).

The story is continuing to focus on our everyman hero, Paul, who’s now an adult and has joined the police force, inspired by his mystery-men heroes, and it’s a pretty good one, although still a step down from the same sorts of material that Kurt Busiek has done in this area. (Frankly it’s impossible not to compare stories of this sort to Kusiek’s Marvels and Astro City because Busiek has done the most and the best work in this territory. I’m sure I’ll do it again.) How Len Wein will cover heroes in the modern age, or the aging of these silver age heroes, remains to be seen. Is he ambitious enough to make it all hang together into a sensible whole, or is he just going to ignore little details like character ages (even as the main character does age)?

Now I remember one of the things that drove me nuts about Paul Levitz’ 1980s Legion of Super-Heroes series: He just can’t stick to a single main story in each issue much of the time. In these first three issues we’ve had:

  1. Earth-Man, the speciesist leader of the former regime, is forced into the Legion as a compromise between the new government and his supporters.
  2. He’s given a Green Lantern ring by a mysterious remnant of the Guardians of the Universe, and finds (in this issue) that that power comes with a price – responsibility for nonhuman sentients.
  3. The moon Titan is destroyed, and the mind controlling Saturn Queen takes over several Legionnaires running disaster relief in its wake.
  4. Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl’s twin sons disappear and they chase after them in a time bubble.

The problem is that each of these threads has been given more-or-less equal time in each of the first three issues, which means that none of those issues has been truly memorable; they’ve been a hodge-podge of fragments of stories (mixed in with some single-page asides of yet more plot threads, such as some Durlan shapeshifters arriving on Earth on a mysterious mission in this issue). I guess lots of Legion fans like this soap-operatic approach to serial comics, but I can’t stand it. It’s one reason I’ve tended to think of Levitz as a second-tier writer. Compare him to one of his contemporaries, Marv Wolfman: Wolfman’s New Teen Titans also dealt with multiple plot threads, but for the first four years of the title most issues had a primary story, with maybe a few pages devoted to some forward-looking plot threads. Not everything worked, but individual issues clearly had particular stories. Levitz’ Legion writing meanders all over the place, occasionally converges on a big story, but often with very little build-up, as if he said to himself, “Hey! It’s time for an epic story!” and wrote one up. While it does take skill to keep these balls in the air, I think at a fundamental level it’s sloppy writing.

On the bright side, I’m pretty happy with how Yildiray Cinar’s art is shaping up, as he’s getting more comfortable with the characters, and the expressions look more genuine. The new costumes are generally pretty good, although taking yet more fabric away from Shadow Lass’ outfit and adding awkward cleavage to Sensor Girl’s are rather awkward changes. I also still hate Element Lad’s pink outfit – can we have the nifty green-and-blue one he wore in the late 70s back, please?

So here’s my problem with Judd Winick’s Power Girl after two issues: He’s already resorted to the hoary old chestnut of having her company taken over by creditors, and having her deal with a rampaging menace while her other self has to deal with those issues in her personal life. It’s been done over and over (heck, seeing it done to the golden age Green Lantern in All-Star Comics was a memorable moment in my childhood comics in the 70s, since it led into one of the series’ best stories), and it’s just plain tired and old at this point. I know my main criticism of the Gray and Palmiotti’s run on the title is that it was too lightweight and frivolous and that I wanted to see more of PG in her secret identity, but this isn’t at all what I had in mind. I was thinking more that we’d see her being a successful businesswoman and make some genuinely interesting discoveries running a high-tech firm. But she hasn’t even had the company long enough for tearing it down to have any emotional impact on the read.

If this is a sign of things to come, then I bet predictions of Winick’s run coming to a quick end will come to pass.

It must be great to be Dan Jurgens: He’s been working in comics books for 25 years, and he’s gotten to write and draw plenty of the big guns (Superman, for example), while also being able to play with his own creations, such as Booster Gold. Time Masters: Vanishing Point is essentially Jurgens’ continuation of his recent Booster Gold series, but he gets to play with some of the big guns – Superman and Green Lantern – while essentially writing a shadow series to Grant Morrison’s Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne series. Booster, Rip Hunter, Superman and GL are all stuck in the 15th century looking for the time-lost Batman, while some time-traveling villains try to capture one of Rip’s lab (being foiled by Booster’s allies).

I don’t expect Jurgens will be given license to have much impact on what happens to Batman here, but I do expect it will be a fun little series focusing on its principal characters, especially Rip and Booster. Jurgens has his flaws as both a writer and an artist, but his stuff is almost always inventive and fun, and this one’s off to a good start.

Toy Story 3

11 years after the second film, Pixar gives us Toy Story 3. Although, as my Dad commented, the premise wears a little thin the third time around, it’s still quite a good film, thoughtful and clever, and also exciting and touching.

Some spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen it:

The toys’ owner, Andy, is now 17 and about to head to college. Most of his toys have been given away or thrown out over the years, and he hasn’t played with the remainder in quite some time. Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) is trying to encourage everyone to deal with the eventuality of being stored in the attic, hopefully to someday be brought back to play with Andy’s own kids. But a series of mishaps result in the gang being donated to Sunnyvale Day Care. Encouraged by the warm welcome by the leader of the day care’s toys, Lots-o-Huggin Bear (Ned Beatty), the toys elect to remain, while Woody heads back to go to college with Andy.

But all is not well at the day care, as Lotso is a tyrant who puts the new toys in the preschoolers’ room, where they endure rough play from kids not old enough to appreciate them. Lotso and his people neutralize Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and imprison the others. Woody, meanwhile, gets lost and ends up in the home of a little girl, where he learns from her toys of the horrors of the day care, and resolves to rescue his friends and get back to Andy.

In hindsight it’s easy to see that the film’s writers had a starting point (“What happens to the toys when their owner grows up?”) and a happy ending point in mind for the film, but bridging the gap between the two is where the adventure comes in: What are some other fates that may befall the toys? We see plenty of possibilities along the way.

This film belongs almost entirely to Woody, even more than the first two: Woody is a little more mature than he was before, and he bears the weight of his collapsing world on his shoulders, but he’s still naive and not-too-bright, so although he always tries to do the right thing and “will never give up on you”, it can take him a while to see what the right thing really is. In a sense, the whole story is a mechanism to show Woody that there are better options for himself and his friends, and that although the road is hard, the journey is worthwhile.

It’s a much darker film than the first two, as from the outset it’s tinged with nostalgia and a sense of loss: If the first two films were about throwing our heroes out of their comfort zone, here their comfort zone is years behind them and they’re adrift, trying to grasp any sense of hope they can find. The story reaches its emotional bottom shortly before the big climax, and it’s as grim a scene as in any Pixar film I can recall, as the toys think they’ve reached the end of the line at a garbage dump. But when they get out of it, I laughed out loud at the audacity of it.

It’s an artfully-constructed film, with various details strewn around, Hitchcock-style, which are used later as plot devices. And for some of the supporting characters it’s a story of redemption – or lack thereof – as always revolving around the theme of sticking with your friends through good times a bad. Turning your back on your friends always leads to bad things. (On the one hand you’d think the toys wouldn’t have to keep learning this. On the other hand, it’s not like humans take these keep these lessons close to their hearts when faced with differences of opinion, either.) But for the toys who remember this lesson (sooner or later), it’s happy endings all around.

The ending is a true tear-jerker, but it should touch the heart of anyone who’s closed the book on a period of their life and looked back on it sadly.

The animation is, as always, stellar. They’ve especially got the movements of the humans down pat (I wonder how much of it is rotoscoped and how much is modeled from whole cloth).

Though not quite on the level of Up, it’s still a strong an satisfying film. Yes, it suffers a bit from being repetitive of the earlier films (the same lessons learned, the same get-back-to-Andy storyline), but the Pixar crew manage to make another interesting variation on the theme, and it’s all just so darned heartwarming that how can you really object to it?

This Week's Biking Non-Adventure

My current schedule is to bike to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So Tuesday I went out to the bike to pump up my tires. I rotated the rear wheel to get the nozzle in the right place and…

“Hmm… that’s strange.”

There was a staple stuck in the tire, one prong jammed neatly into the tire. I pulled it out, and saw that the tire was flat. Was it flat before I pulled the staple out? I dunno, but even so I wasn’t going to bike to work with a staple in my tire and get a flat halfway in.

My thought process then went something like this:

  1. I could change the tube myself, but I’m not very good at it. It’d probably take me about 20 minutes to change it.
  2. Then I’d be getting into work pretty late (even by my lights), so I’d better drive.
  3. If I drive, should I then change the tube myself tonight, or shall I be lazy and take the wheel to the shop and get it fixed?
  4. I’m going to be lazy. Then I can have them check the tire to see if it’s still otherwise sound, too.
  5. Of course, if I never change flats myself, then I’m never going to get any better at it.
  6. Then again, I don’t really want to get so many flats that I get that much practice…

(I find changing the tube to be difficult mainly when trying to start getting the tire off, or finish putting it on; the tension is pretty strong, and I just don’t have the right technique or something, because I always stress my fingers at those points, and struggle with it until it finally pops out or pops back on. A pain in the ass, really.)

Two additional ironies: When I had my bike in to change a different flat a few weeks ago (due to the tire rupturing around the nozzle because I’d twisted the screw that holds the nozzle in place too far) he said my tires are pretty impenetrable. Apparently not completely impenetrable (maybe the staple just missed hitting the kevlar lining, or maybe biking on it drove it through). Second, we’d gone by the bike shop on Saturday to have the gears on Debbi’s bike adjusted; had I known about the staple then, I could have brought the wheel in at the same time.

Anyway, I took the wheel in after work on Tuesday and it was fixed in 15 minutes (so… maybe it would have taken me even longer to fix it myself?), and the wheel checked out. So I biked in again on Thursday and it help up like a champ. (And the wheel itself, which I had replaced last year with a beefier model because the spokes kept breaking, has done wonderfully this year, as well.)

bbum suggested that I get some slime-filled tubes for my bike. So I might try that. Although honestly I don’t get many flats these days, so it would just be an extra layer of insurance. But maybe.

Biking has otherwise been going well this year, aside from flat-tire mishaps and issues with getting ill or our late-season rains. I think I’ll easily eclipse my mileage from last year.

This Week's Haul

  • Adventure Comics #526, by Paul Levitz, Kevin Sharpe & Marlo Alquiza, and Jeff Lemire, Mahmud A. Asrar & John Dell (DC)
  • Astro City Special: Silver Agent #1 of 2, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • The Brave and the Bold #35, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Superman #701, by J. Michael Straczynski, Eddy Barrow & J.P. Mayer (DC)
  • The Unwritten #15, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Echo #23, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Age of Reptiles: The Journey #4 of 4, by Ricardo Delgado (Dark Horse)
  • The Mystery Society #2, by Steve Niles & Fiona Staples (IDW)
  • Chew #12, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
  • The Sixth Gun #1 & #2, by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni)
Okay, I get the idea (after all of 2 issues): Adventure Comics is going to have little stories about the Legion of Super-Heroes past (well, relative to the regular Legion comic). This is too trivial for me to care about, especially since the Paul Levitz Legion has never been all that to me. (The Jim Shooter Legion it ain’t.) This issue especially annoys me because I’m dreadfully tired of Brainiac 5 being portrayed as essentially a cranky old Vulcan. I also loathe the faux-Russian speech mannerisms of the Legion’s late benefactor R.J. Brande here. Bad stuff.

This issue also had an Atom back-up that lost me after about 2 pages.

This series isn’t worth bothering with, so I’ll be sticking to the main series from here on out.

On the other hand, the new Astro City is a 2-parter focusing on the Silver Agent. The Agent was introduced early in the series via a statue of the man with the words “To Our Eternal Shame” on the plaque. We saw more of him in The Dark Age as his fate marked the end of the silver age in Astro City and the beginning of that dark age. But that wasn’t the end of the character.

In a nutshell, you could describe the premise of the character thus: What is Captain America were framed for murder, and was executed (with the public’s approval) before the truth came out? But what if just before the execution, he was rescued by the Legion of Super-Heroes, who pulled him forward to the future to help them in a war of their own? And what if he then had to weigh the decision to live the rest of his life in the future, or to return to meet the fate history had laid out for him?

That’s this issue (along with his origin). And it’s really good. The Dark Age felt like it meandered around too much, and this issue feels like it’s getting back the focus the series has otherwise always had. Next issue, well, I’m hoping Busiek and Anderson knock it out of the park, because it’s what we’ve been waiting for for a long, long time.

(And how awesome is the logo on the cover? It looks like it came right off a Marvel comic from the 1960s!)

Getting back to the chaff, J. Michael Straczynski’s The Brave and the Bold has been generally pretty bad, although seeing Jesus Saiz develop as an artist has been nice. But this issue is awful, as the Legion of Substitute Heroes and the Inferior Five “team up” to try to save the world – from the same menace the Legion of Super-Heroes and the Doom Patrol saved it from last issue, explaining a few mysteries from last issue. It’s supposed to be funny, but it’s anything but. It’s actually rather embarrassing. I’m not really sure why people think the Subs are best used as comical figures, since every attempt to write a funny story with them has been just awful. They were used much better in Geoff Johns’ “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” story a couple of years back. Sure, they’re second-stringers, but in a sense that just means they have to try harder. Making fun of them is, well, no fun at al. As for the Inferior Five, well, if ever there was a joke whose time has long since passed, they’re it.

I don’t think I can stand any more of this series, so I’m hitting the eject button.

In a way it’s too bad, because the first year of this series, by Mark Waid and George Pérez, was excellent (especially the first 6 issues), but it really went downhill quickly after that. Nothing really memorable other than the Green Lantern/Spectre issues, which were enjoyable enough.

And speaking of J. Michael Straczynski, Superman #701 is the real first chapter of his series “Grounded”. Superman doesn’t entirely stay on the ground, but he walks across the country to interact with people on their level. It’s basically full of Straczynski clichés: The slightly-too-sentimental rescues, the humor that fails badly, the out-of-place and rather tedious philosophical asides. It’s not quite as bad as all that, but it feels downright trivial, and very much unlike a Superman story. As I said last month, I don’t think Straczynski really gets superhero comics, since none of his really seem to work (other than The Twelve, in which the fact that the characters were superheroes was almost incidental to the story).

The story will need to shift in tone sharply next issue, because this premise as depicted here just doesn’t have legs (so to speak).

John Cassaday’s cover has been getting a lot of favorable reviews, but I think he’s done much better work. The composition is nothing special, and it looks like there’s something wrong with Supes’ head and neck.

A larger disappointment has been the new Age of Reptiles mini-series. The first two series were great stuff, telling actual stories about dinosaurs without anthropomorphizing them too much (just enough to make them a little more sympathetic – or not – to the readers). You could argue that Ricardo Delgado framed everything to make a story out of it.

But The Journey has been more a series of vignettes, without an actual story. Or if there was one, then it was too subtle or too buried for me to pick up on it. So although lavishly illustrated, it hasn’t been a very satisfying read. I got to the end of this issue and scratched my head wondering exactly what the point was. Okay, drawing dinosaurs may be a point in itself, but really this was a big letdown compared to the first two series.


Finally, The Sixth Gun premiered as a Free Comic Book Day giveaway, and the first two issues both came out this week. (The first issue is essentially identical to the FCBD issue.) It’s quite good, being a supernatural horror story set in the old west: An old Confederate general is raised from the grave (if he ever really went there in the first place) and wants his gun back. But his gun is bonded to the daughter of the man who stole it from him, and she’s being spirited away by one of the General’s former posse, whose motivations are still murky.

There’s violence, mayhem, dark magic, ghosts, and all kinds of good stuff, and Brian Hurtt’s art is excellent, expressive and nuanced despite his fundamentally simple style. Overall this is a nice package and a fun read. I’m looking forward to more.

Three Emotions

I’m happy because several of my friends at work have moved into my building, after having been working in another building for the last year and a half. Before they moved they were my regular lunch and coffee buds, so I’m very happy to have them back (even though I’ve recruited other folks in the meantime – this does mean we’re going to have large lunch outings!).

But I’m sad because one of those friends is leaving Apple next week, to head back to grad school.

But then I’m amused that another friend, who had a day off today, decided to get out of the house and ended up at the same beach that Debbi and I went to when we went to Half Moon Bay on Saturday: Cowell Ranch State Beach. What a coincidence! It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area and want a nice secluded beach. While walking from the parking area, look for the blue whale gate:

Life as a Blogger

My friend J.D. Roth on his life as a blogger. J.D. is one of the true blogging success stories – he’s made his living off his blog Get Rich Slowly for several years now.

He mentions me as one of the journallers he read who inspired him to start writing back in the day. In turn, his link inspired me to get my old archives back on-line this past weekend. I wonder how long it’ll take for Google to index them anew?

This Week's Haul

On Wednesday, comics writer Ed Brubaker tweeted:

Seriously, anyone not picking up Casanova and Scarlet this week doesn’t want good comics.

Neither of these books had really been on my radar, but since I’ve developed a great deal of respect for Brubaker’s writing over the past year, his recommendation was enough to make me give them a try. So what did I think? Read on…

  • Batman and Robin #13, by Grant Morrison & Frazer Irving (DC)
  • Brightest Day #5, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Ardian J. Syaf, Joe Prada & Vicente Cifuentes (DC)
  • Secret Six #23, by John Ostrander, R.B. Silva & Alexandre Palamaro (DC)
  • Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #2 of 6, by Peter Hogan, Chris Sprouse & Karl Story (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Casanova #1, by Matt Fraction, Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon (Marvel/Icon)
  • Fantastic Four Annual #32, by Joe Ahearne, Bryan Hitch & Andrew Currie (Marvel)
  • Hercules: Twilight of a God #2 of 4, by Bob Layton & Ron Lim (Marvel)
  • Scarlet #1, by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev (Marvel/Icon)
  • Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier #1, by Ed Brubaker & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • Irredeemable #15, by Mark Waid & Diego Barreto (Boom)
  • The Boys #44, by Garth Ennis & Russ Braun (Dynamite)
  • Hellboy: The Storm #1 of 3, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
The main thing I have to say about this week’s Batman and Robin is: Yaaaggggh! I can’t stand Frazer Irving’s artwork here! I like it even less here than in his issue of The Return of Bruce Wayne. The fake-looking expressions, the stiff coloring job (apparently also by Irving), the images of Dick Grayson and The Joker that barely look like them (how can you draw a Joker that barely looks like The Joker? Irving somehow manages it), the barely-rendered background. Greg Burgas loves his art, but then, this is far from the first time that I’ve been at the opposite end from him.

Like Francis Manapul’s art on The Flash, Irving’s art may soon be a signal to me not to buy a comic.

The story’s okay; Morrison brings back Professor Pyg from the first story, which suggests that he’s going to wrap up Dick’s tenure as Batman very soon. He also throws in a teaser about Bruce’s father coming back, having not really been killed, which is nearly impossible to credit, as the guy would have to be around 80 by now (not to mention that it would substantially undercut Batman’s backstory), so obviously there’s something else going on.

Casanova ran as a comic from Image a few years ago, and it seems this series is a reprint of the earlier issues. The premise – as best I can figure it out – is that Casanova Quinn is the son of Cornelius Quinn, the Nick Fury-esque leader of the global spy agency E.M.P.I.R.E. Casanova’s sister, Zephyr, is E.M.P.I.R.E.’s top agent. Casanova, meanwhile, is a thief. The story opens with him on a mission, when Cornelius’ right-hand man, Buck McShane (who resembles Fury’s right-hand man Dum Dum Dugan), shows up to take Casanova down. The reason is that Zephyr has died. This leas to a confrontation between Casanova and his father, followed by an adventure in which Casanova takes down a crime lord in a mental duel, then gets recruited by Newman Zeno, the leader of the global crime organization W.A.S.T.E., ends up in a parallel timeline, and tries to pull off his original heist again.

The story reads a lot like another series Gabriel Bá drew, The Umbrella Academy. It’s the sort of story I file under “madcap nonsensical adventure”. More precisely, the story seems to revel in its being just too darned clever, but doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to actually making sense. Like Academy, Casanova starts off being intriguing and amusing, but Academy rather quickly devolved into a muddled mess, its storylines pointless and its characters uninteresting (and certainly not sympathetic). So the question is: Will Casanova manage to pull together, gain some focus, and work through some themes and characterizations in depth? Or will it, too, become a muddled mess? That it ostensibly emphasizes a single protagonist gives me hope that it will be the former. But the execution of the first issue makes me worry it will be the latter, and that I’ll stop caring pretty soon.

Brian Michael Bendis’ mainstream comics writing drives me almost as crazy as does J. Michael Straczynski’s. Bendis’ Marvel work, especially his Avengers titles, are little more than a massive dose of navel-gazing continuity clutter, and his affectations in writing dialogue – emphasizing uncertainty and starts and stops while speaking – feel especially out-of-place in Marvel comics, especially titles like The Avengers. On the other hand, Bendis does have one genuine great series to his name, Powers, which is creator-owned, like his new title, Scarlet.

The premise appears to be that the the main character sees the problems and corruption in society and decides to do something about it, sparking a revolution. This issue begins with her and her friends – as young adults – having an unfortunate encounter with a corrupt cop, and the cop kills her boyfriend and injures her. So that’s the spark that sets her off, and from the text page it sounds like the story will get bigger and bigger as it progresses. Scarlet isn’t some superpowered maniac, she’s just a normel person (albeit with some ridiculously big firearms).

The first issue is a little annoying in that Scarlet spends most of it talking directly to the reader, and saying we’re going to help her change everything, an affectation that just seems cheesy – a simple first-person testimonial-style narrative would have worked better. But Bendis’ narratives are often full of affectations, so that just comes with the territory I guess. Otherwise the set-up isn’t bad. I’m not particularly blown away, and Scarlet isn’t a very interesting character, yet, but there’s some potential here. Unlike Casanova, which is all over the place, Scarlet stays in one place but doesn’t get very far. But hopefully that will change after another 2 or 3 issues.

Alex Maleev’s art reminds me a lot of Tony Harris’, with its ultra-realistic poses and breakdowns, but stylized linework and finishes. The murky coloring job (also by Maleev?) doesn’t bring out the best in the lines, though, rather burying them under fairly bland tones. His figures and expressions are actually less peculiar than Harris’ tend to be (Harris’ faces sometimes feature some rather silly grimaces, while Maleev’s faces look much more genuine), it’s just disappointing that the whole doesn’t live up to the promise of its component parts.

So there’s certainly some potential here. I’m hoping Bendis isn’t going to drag out the build-up of the storyline across a year or two, and rather goes for the jugular sooner rather than later. I’m not sure the book will hold my attention if it stays at this level for more than a few issues, unless the characters develop suddenly and dramatically (and, uh, unless we end up with more than one major character). I’ll give it a few issues and see how it shapes up.

Ironically, Ed Brubaker’s comic out this week is better than either of the ones he touted in his tweet. It’s starting to amaze me how much Brubaker is able to plumb the depths of Captain America’s past, yet not seem like he’s going to the well too often. Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier has a stupid title, but the story itself is quite good. Steve Rogers, of course, was the original Captain America, but when he returned from death (or wherever it was he was, I haven’t read Captain America Reborn yet) he let Bucky Barnes keep the title (and the shield). Now Steve’s the leader of the Avengers and “America’s top law-enforcement agent”, which I guess means he’s on a par with the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. without all the paperwork. Of course, we can’t blame Brubaker for the convoluted backstory (well, mostly not), but you can boil it down to “superhuman government agent who’s just not Captain America anymore”.

But the source of this story is that the grandson of the man who gave Steve his powers has apparently replicated the formula and is putting it on the market to the highest bidder, and Steve breaks into the hotel where the auction is supposed to take place to stop it. But not only have things already started to get out of control, but it turns out something rather different is going on – something Steve will have to figure out in the coming issues. It’s a pretty good set-up, and fits in perfectly with Brubaker’s other Cap stories.

I keep thinking Dale Eaglesham’s art ought to be better than it is. His linework varies from nuanced (especially in his use of shadows) to strangely simplistic. His compositions are fine, but occasionally his figures seem stiff and overly posed. This was my impression when I first saw his work in Justice Society of America 3 years ago, but oddly I don’t think he’s advanced a lot on that time. His work here seems influenced by Jim Steranko, which is a good thing (and probably not a coincidence), but it’s still not entirely successful.

The worst part of the comic, though, is that awful costume Steve’s been saddled with. It’s like Nick Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. outfit fought Captain America’s costume, and both lost. But I can get past that.

Being the fill-in artist for Darick Robertson is going to be a tough job for almost anyone, but the guys who have filled those shoes on The Boys haven’t really come close to reaching Robertson’s skills. To my surprise, though, not only for Russ Braun do a creditable job this week, but his style is so close to Robertson’s own that it’s hard to tell the difference, at least at first glance. Braun’s style is a little “shinier” than Robertson’s, and his characters are a bit more idealized, not having that Shawn McManus-esque quirkiness to their figures, but otherwise it’s really close. Quite a pleasant surprise.

The story is kicking into a higher gear, as Butcher is having trouble trusting Wee Hughie, Hughie is still reeling from his encounter with Malchemical last issue, and Hughie’s girlfriend is about to drop the bomb on him. It’s been a long time coming, but it looks like all of Ennis’ set-up is going to start paying off.

Infants and Independence Day

We had a pretty lively weekend. Saturday we went over to our friends Chad & Camille’s place for their twin kids’ one-year birthday party. As I’ve been saying, one-year birthday parties are more for the parents than for the kids, though the kids seemed to enjoy it anyway. We knew everyone there (other than C&C’s nanny and her fiancé), and saw a few folks we hadn’t in a while.

We had another hot weekend – not a scorcher, but still warm – and C&C invited us back on Sunday to avail ourselves of their pool, which we were happy to take them up on. So we spent the afternoon there, and I got to entertain the kids some more. Kids love me. I like them as long as I can hand them back to their parents when I run out of steam with them. 🙂

Sunday evening we biked into Shoreline Park for the annual Independence Day fireworks, which is always fun. Dealing with the idiots on the paths and streets on the way out of the park isn’t so much fun, but this year they had people directing traffic at the main intersection on our way out, which made it easier. And we had our first-class location on the grass as usual, too.

Monday we both had off from work, and we had a fairly quiet day mostly at home, with a few excursions for lunch and coffee. We also picked up the fixings so I could make mocha chip ice cream, which I did. This batch turned out especially good, too! And the heat broke (which I’m sure all of you sweltering on the east coast are envious of), which made the day even nicer.

But I had a terrible time sleeping last night, and woke up not only groggy but also with a sore throat, so I decided it was prudent to stay home from work. I dozed some in the morning (Newton and Blackjack snoozed with me), had some lunch, and spent the afternoon on the couch finishing a book and re-watching chunks of the films of The Lord of the Rings.

Hopefully I will be all better tomorrow. There have been some nasty illnesses going around at work and I’m hoping I haven’t caught one of them. Though each person seems to have something different, so it’s probably my own special thing.

This Week's Haul

In addition to the usual roundup, note that the second of Fantagraphics’ hardcover collections of Prince Valiant came out this week. These are really lovely collections, a big upgrade on their softcover collections of the 90s, and well worth it for anyone who’s a fan of Hal Foster’s lovely artwork.

  • Action Comics #890, by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods (DC)
  • Batman Beyond #1 of 6, by Adam Beechen, Ryan Benjamin & John Stanisci (DC)
  • The Flash #3, by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul (DC)
  • Green Lantern #55, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Justice League of America #46, by James Robinson, Mark Bagley, Rob Hunter & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #40, by Bill Willingham, Jesus Merino & Jesse Delperdang (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #24, by Matt Wagner & Marley Zarcone (DC/Vertigo)
  • Wonder Woman #600, by Gail Simone, George Pérez & Scott Koblish, Amanda Conner, Louise Simonson, Eduardo Pansica & Bob Wiacek, Geoff Johns & Scott Kolins, and J. Michael Straczynski, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • Astonishing X-Men #34, by Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning (Marvel)
  • Captain America #607, by Ed Brubaker, Mitch Breitweiser & Jackson Guice (Marvel)
  • Prince Valiant vol 2 1939-1940 HC, by Hal Foster (Fantagraphics)
  • Invincible #73, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley & Cliff Rathburn (Image)
  • Ghost Projekt #3 of 5, by Joe Harris & Steve Rolston (Oni)
  • Atomic Robo and the Curse of the Vampire Dimension #4 of 4, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
Paul Cornell’s had an interesting career: Doctor Who episodes, science fiction novels, and now comic books, following up on his Captain Britain and MI-13 series for Marvel (which I haven’t read) with the beginning of a run on Action Comics. With J. Michael Straczynski monopolizing Superman in his own title, though, Cornell is focusing on Lex Luthor here in Action.

Writing a story starring a bad guy can be hard, and Lex is about as bad as they come: He’s evolved from a brilliant, hateful, and emotional villain to a brilliant, hateful, code-and-calculating villain, who keeps his emotions bottled up, making his crimes (and moral lapses) all the more creepy. Cornell pulls off all this creepiness quite well, and even has a tricky little subplot involving Lois Lane witnessing Lex’s crimes. Lex’s motivation here is that he tasted the power of a power ring (the orange ring in Blackest Night) and he’s trying to figure out a way to get it back by researching the power of the vanished black rings. Lex always has ambitions a little higher and darker than anyone else in the DC universe.

If there’s a downside to this issue it’s the reveal on the last page, which feels like an awkward shift into a different storyline than where the issue started. But Cornell might just be taking the story in a different direction than it first appeared. But overall his first issue is pretty nifty, so I’m looking forward to see where Cornell’s going with it.

Oh, and Pete Woods’ art is terrific. Similar to that of Gary Frank back before Frank went ulta-realistic (and mostly stopped drawing backgrounds) with a hint of Tony Harris, he has a strong design and composition sense and clean linework. I’m not sure if I’ve seen his stuff before, but I like it a lot.

For some reason DC has decided to revive the Batman Beyond franchise, which was primarily an animated series, and one which ended nearly ten years ago. Is the trademark about to expire or something? Well, after a Superman/Batman annual featuring the character a few weeks ago (written by Paul Levitz, it was pretty routine stuff), now there’s a 6-issue mini-series written by Adam Beechen (whose work I really only know from his – pretty good – Countdown to Adventure series a few years ago) and drawn by Ryan Benjamin and John Stanisci (neither of whom I’m familiar with).

The story is a straight follow-up to the cartoon series, with characters such as Amanda Waller filling roles different from those in comic books. The story involves someone escaping from a high-tech laboratory and apparently killing the original Batman’s enemies. His successor, Terry McGinnis, tries to head him off, when he and Bruce Wayne find out what’s happening, and the issue ends with the revelation of the villain’s identity, indicating that a comic book villain is moving into the animated world. It works pretty well as a first issue, and is certainly enough that I’ll pick up the rest of the series.

Seeing the animated characters drawn in a more realistic, comic book-like style is kind of weird; sometimes Benjamin manages to pull off the expressions that really make the characters who they are on the small screen, but other times they seem like someone else, actors playing the characters. It’s not entirely successful; look at the cover, for example, where McGinnis’ Batman has more muscle and definition than he ever had in the cartoon. I’m not sure what aesthetic they’re really going for here. It’s a good-looking book, but there’s a certain cognitive dissonance to it that makes it difficult for me to fully buy into it being a sequel to the cartoon.

Wonder Woman #600 is another anthology issue with pin-ups, like Superman #700 was last week, which makes it feel rather less special as an anniversary issue. Unsurprisingly the best story in it is the one written by Gail Simone and drawn by the always-amazing George Pérez, even though the premise is yet another “let’s come up with a silly excuse for having every female superhero embark on an adventure together, without any of the men”. What really sells it, though, is that afterwards Diana heads out for the graduation of one of the supporting characters of her series when she was re-imagined by Pérez 20 years ago. Given that this issue is also re-imagining the character in a later story, this is a fine and touching coda to Wonder Woman’s current incarnation. (Pérez also draws a fantastic two-page poster with characters from throughout this run, almost worth the price of admission all by itself.)

Amanda Conner writers and draws a short piece with Wonder Woman and Power Girl, which feels a little under-rendered for her usual work, and which is a cute little personal piece about PG’s home life. Louise Simonson writes a third story guest-starring Superman which is a straight adventure story (the art is by Eduardo Pansica whom I’m not familiar with, but it looks pretty nice; inker Bob Wiacek looks like he had a strong influence on it, though). Then Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins write the lead-in to J. Michael Straczynski’s re-imagining, in which the character is apparently broken down and reappears in her new guise, with a new backstory.

The story is a fairly light lead-in to Straczynski’s run on the character, but is much better than his rather awful debut on Superman last week: Wonder Woman is now apparently a refugee from Paradise Island, along with the surviving Amazons, and it’s not clear who killed most of the Amazons or why, but apparently he’s still hunting her.

The problem with the story is not that it’s bad, but that it doesn’t feel like Wonder Woman. It made sense when Tangent Comics turned characters completely on their head, but this Wonder Woman has so little connection to her past incarnations that I wonder why they even bothered. I like the theory at The Beat that “a lot of this seems to be a reboot aimed at getting a Wonder Woman movie closer to being made – actresses didn’t seem so thrilled about running around in a glorified swimsuit”. Which brings us to the new costume, which has engendered plenty of controversy. I don’t think it’s awful, although going from one largely-nonfunctional costume to another one seems rather silly (those tiny little jackets look pretty silly whenever I see anyone wearing one, and I’ve got to think that that V-shaped belt is going to hurt whenever she bends over).

The costume is really just a visual indication of what I said about Straczynski’s comics writing last week: He goes so far out trying to do something new with the character that he loses (or shows that he never understood) what defined that character in the first place. To be sure, where Wonder Woman is concerned the definition has always been a little sketchy (considering her the third leg of DC’s top “trinity” of characters has always seemed rather silly, since she’s nowhere near as iconic as Superman or Batman; her powers are essentially that of a female Superman, and her character has been pulled in so many directions that it’s difficult to define who she is or what she stands for), but whatever she is, I don’t think this is it.

Still, the story seems decent enough, which could make it a good read where Straczynski’s Superman looks like a disaster out of the gate. And while Don Kramer is no George Pérez in the art department, well, who is? So color my guardedly optimistic.

This month’s Invincible is an interesting one for readers like me who appreciate unorthodox story structures: The main characters are entirely off-stage while the primary storyline (the war against the Viltrumites, the conquering race of supermen that Invincible’s father hails from) goes on. But the story itself – told in a series of vignettes – focuses mainly on Invincible’s father Omni-Man and his brother Oliver, who get to know each other while Invincible recovers from near-fatal injuries. Meanwhile, their allies think they’ve been killed, and the war begins without them. We see glimpses of how the war is going (sometimes well, sometimes poorly), but the focus is on the two men. It’s effective without being cloying, has Robert Kirkman’s trademark (and slightly twisted and grotesque) sense of humor, and feels like a calm before the storm without feeling like a wasted issue.

All-in-all it shows what a versatile writer Kirkman is. It seems like every issue of Invincible is a little journey off the beaten path of standard superhero comics. That’s probably what makes it such a good series.

(By the way, here’s something neat: Ryan Ottley’s cover for the issue in pencils, pencils and inks, and in final colored form.)