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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.)

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