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This Week's Haul

Two weeks at once again, I’m afraid. Between fantasy baseball, work, taxes, the last two ultimate frisbee games of the season, and preparing for an upcoming vacation, I haven’t had much time to keep up with the journal.

Last week:

  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Four #3 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC)
  • Blackest Night #8 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #37, by Bill Willingham, Jesus Merino & Jesse Delperdang (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #21, by Matt Wagner & Amy Reeder Hadley (DC/Vertigo)
  • Captain America: Winter Soldier ultimate collection TPB, by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Michael Lark, John Paul Leon, Mike Perkins & Tom Palmer (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #577, by Jonathan Hickman & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #4, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
  • RASL #7, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)

This week:

  • Batman and Robin #11, by Grant Morrison, Andy Clarke & Scott Hanna (DC)
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. #1, by Jonathan Hickman & Dustin Weaver (Marvel)
  • The Boys #41, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Invincible Returns #1, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, Cory Walker & Cliff Rarthburn (Image)
Last week was the conclusion to DC’s big event comic of the past year, Blackest Night. I’ve written extensively about it along the way, and the conclusion didn’t really change my mind. In sum, it was a coherent story, essentially an outgrowth of ongoing themes in Green Lantern, but went on for far too long given that it was ultimately a fairly typical “save the universe” superhero yarn. Damning it with faint praise? Well, as I’ve also said, compared to other event comics from DC over the last few years, Blackest Night seems downright brilliant, staying away from convoluted continuity (in fact, Johns has largely ignored inconvenient continuity in his Green Lantern run in favor of building his own mythos, and the series has been the better for it) and portraying the heroes as being actual heroes, not trying to make them more “mature” or whatever Identity Crisis (which was pure trash as a series) was trying to do.

This final issue shows GL and his partners taking down the villain, and finding that the spirit of life in the universe has given them a gift returning a number of long-time heroes (and a few villains) to the land of the living. (I’d suspected that was how this was going to play out back at the beginning of the series.) This isn’t exactly a boon for some of the characters – just for starters, a hero named Deadman probably shouldn’t be returned to life, eh? – and I guess this will lead into DC’s next bi-weekly series, Brightest Day (which I’m on the fence about picking up).

In addition to all this, Blackest Night is something of a buddy story, bringing Flash and Green Lantern together again, remembering old friends, reclaiming their positions in the top tier of DC’s pantheon of heroes by defeating this big baddie. This issue winds down with the two of them standing over Batman’s grave and realizing that Bruce Wayne is still alive, and wondering what’s next for them all. Not a bad way to end the series.

And wow, that cover sure is gorgeous! Ivan Reis does a bang-up job on the interior art, too. He’s still got that tinge of “classic Image style” to his pencils which is a bit off-putting, but he’s been getting better and better. I hope he goes back to drawing GL again now that this series is over.

Essential reading Blackest Night might not be, and as it’s mainly been driven by Geoff Johns’ own vision I don’t think it reflects much on what DC’s future event comics might be like. But it’s been pretty good.

I completely missed out on Ed Brubaker’s Captain America when it started. To be sure, Cap was in the doldrums when it began, having gone through several relaunches of his title, none of them since Mark Waid’s first run really having worked. (The John Ney Rieber/John Cassaday run looks pretty, but that’s about it.) And I’d never heard of Brubaker before, so why sign on to yet another new Cap series?

But having discovered Brubaker through his independent work (Incognito, Criminal, Sleeper), and knowing that Steve Epting is a top-notch artist, the release of the Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection seemed like a fine time to start catching up on what I’d missed.

What I’d missed was Brubaker really, truly doing what’s been verboten at Marvel for decades: Bringing back Cap’s deceased partner Bucky Barnes. (I don’t really count Peter David’s jokey hint of doing so in Incredible Hulk years ago.) But Brubaker pulls it off, making Bucky a tragic figure whose history since World War II has been anything but happy and heroic. Winter Soldier follows Cap learning about Bucky’s existence thanks to his friends at S.H.I.E.L.D., and a powerful businessman who’s employing a former Soviet operative code-named the Winter Soldier as a hit-man and bodyguard. Okay, it doesn’t take much to figure out what’s really going on here from all that, but Brubaker is such a good writer that he weaves in Cap’s own personal crisis (this story occurs shortly after the original Avengers disbanded), international intrigue, the death of a minor supporting character, and the complex story of Bucky’s survival into a seamless whole. It works astoundingly well, and has me interested in more.

Of course I know where Cap’s gone over the last few years since this story, what with Civil War and (ahem) The Death of Captain America, but Brubaker’s got me won over that I want to read how he handles it. Winter Soldier might be a little too heavy for someone not already a Cap fan, but if you’re reasonably familiar with Cap’s own history, then this one is highly recommended.


I’m not sure what to make on Jonathan Hickman’s series for Marvel. Fantastic Four has been contemplative, not really action-oriented at all, and we’re now 3/4ths of the way through an “arc” in which the FF are being exposed to new exotic groups of creatures: Highly-evolved subterraneans, high-tech underwater beings, and now non-human inhumans. (The sequence is titled “Prime Elements”, so the three groups shown so far presumably represent earth, water and air.) It feels like it’s purely set-up for future stories, but it’s all so far-ranging it’s hard to see how it will all tie together. Meanwhile, the individual issues have not been particularly good, with little tension or conflict or character studies. It’s been rather dull, actually.

And now there’s the ongoing title S.H.I.E.L.D., which seems to only tangentially relate to the classic Nick Fury organization. Instead it features historic figures saving the world – Galileo facing Galactus, for example. The conceit is briefly amusing, but an ongoing series? Really? In the 1950s we have a man who seems to have Captain Marvel’s cosmic awareness joining the group, when his father shows up and faces Agents Richards and Stark. All these details make it seem like the series is taking place in one or more alternate universes, because shoehorning all this stuff into the existing Marvel Universe seems somewhere between pointless and impossible. And again, the story is more thoughtful than exciting, and it’s hard to get enthused about it.

Hickman’s artistic partners are quite good, but the writing just isn’t doing it for me. Exploring the unexplored backwaters of a nearly-50-year-old universe needs to be a lot more gripping and relevant than this to hold my interest. Hickman needs to punch up the excitement factor, because his efforts at cultivating a sense of wonder aren’t working.

This Week's Haul

Late once again. Then again, it was a tiny week, with three penultimate chapters coming out. Plus I hear Gray, Palmiotti and Conner will be leaving Power Girl after #12.

  • Green Lantern #51, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Rebecca Buchman & Keith Champagne (DC)
  • Power Girl #10, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Victorian Undead #5 of 6, by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri (DC/Wildstorm)
  • The Marvels Project #7 of 8, by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Marvel)
Blackest Night is about to finish up, and this week’s Green Lantern brings us to the edge. I gotta say that despite not being a very compelling story, mechanically Johns and company have done a good job of telling the event across three books: Green Lantern followed Hal Jordan putting together the new “rainbow guardians”, Green Lantern Corps showed the Corps trying to deal with the universe-wide zombie outbreak, and Blackest Night showed Earth’s heroes fighting zombies, as the villains gradually revealed themselves and their plan. You could almost read just a single comic and follow what’s happening, which is unusual in a braided story like this.

The story’s developed into one about death vs. life, which an attempt to show that the villain Nekron’s point of view, trying to wipe out all life to return the universe to its peaceful state before life developed. Meanwhile, longtime GL villain Sinestro has been imbued with the power of the white avatar of life, which has been hiding inside the Earth for billions of years, which explains why Earth is a focal point for attention from aliens and why it’s developed so many super-heroes.

The larger story has been pretty ho-hum so far (zombies, more zombies, and the cosmic balance at stake), and the assembling of the rainbow guardians has been downright silly (I guess Hal’s going to try to keep them together after the series ends, which seems even sillier). The best bits have been certain characters either exorcising their demons (John Stewart has some unfortunate events in his past which he’s been working through here) or seeking redemption (Sinestro, who of course we can’t entirely trust with his new-found powers). Overall it has been the most readable of DC’s event series of recent years, but it has been rather overblown compared to what the story ended up being.

It wraps up tomorrow.

This Week's Haul

Hey, would you look at this, it’s an entry finally posted in a timely manner!

  • The Brave and the Bold #31, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chad Hardin, Justiniano, Wayne Faucher & Walden Wong (DC)
  • Fables #92, by Bill Willingham & David Lapham (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #44, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Tom Nguyen & Keith Champagne (DC)
  • Power Girl #8, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Starman #81, by James Robinson, Fernando Dagnino & Bill Sienkiewicz (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #140, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lante & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
  • Nova #33, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • The Thing: Project Pegasus deluxe HC, by Ralph Macchio, Mark Gruenwald, Sal Buscema, John Byrne, George Pérez, Sam Grainger, Alfredo Alcala, Joe Sinnott & Gene Day (Marvel)
  • X-Men: The Asgardian Wars HC, by Chris Claremont, Paul Smith, Arthur Adams, Bob Wiacek, Terry Austin, Al Gordon & Mike Mignola (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #2, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
  • RASL #6, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon)
The Brave and the Bold #31 I picked up a couple of DC books this week which are largely humorous, but they couldn’t be much more different if they’d tried. The Brave and the Bold features the uncomfortable pairing of the Atom and the Joker, where the Joker is suffering from a brain illness, and only the Atom can save him, by shrinking down far enough to deliver a capsule to a point in his brain that might cure him – or kill him. The story opens with Atom being unable to get to Arkham at first because he can only travel through land telephone lines, not cell phones, and then features several pages of Atom refusing to help save the Joker until he’s told that the cure might not even work, so Atom could do his best and still fail. The phone idea is cute, as long as you don’t think about it too hard (throwing an arbitrary limit on an ability that doesn’t make much sense in the first place is always silly; wouldn’t Atom also have trouble with fiber optic cables in the phone system?), but wrestling with his conscience doesn’t work at all. The Atom if an old-style hero who’s largely stuck to those roots, and while he might lament the need to save the life of an enemy, his over-the-top heart-wringing here feels completely out of character.

The rest of the story is okay, and played more seriously: While in the Joker’s brain, Atom gets flashes of Joker’s childhood memories – the making of a psychopath, as it were. It’s not terribly insightful, and has flashes of gallows humor, which still isn’t terribly funny. There’s isn’t much covered here that hasn’t been covered in many Joker stories previously, and the story wasn’t as satisfying overall as, say, John Byrne’s tale in his Generations series where one Batman has to save the Joker from being haunted to death by the ghost of an earlier Batman.

But mostly it’s that the humorous bits go so horribly wrong that makes this story rather painful to read. Quite a letdown after last month’s decent Green Lantern/Doctor Fate yarn. The format of The Brave and the Bold seems to be exposing many of Straczynski’s flaws as a writer, and it’s not pretty.

Power Girl #8 On the other hand, while the set-up of this 2-part Power Girl story disappointed me, the payoff in this issue is considerably funnier. Okay, the cliffhanger from last month gets handled in 4 pages (despite “hours of fighting” having elapsed between issues), but after that, rather than PG being (theoretically) at the mercy of Vartox, she manages to tame him down to civilized levels, and laughs out loud at some of the ridiculousness of his plans. There are several giggle-worthy moments in the issue, and everything works out for the best for both characters.

I still think Power Girl would be better served with some more serious stories – since very little about the series has been serious so far – but at least they got the lightheartedness of this issue right. And certainly more right than Straczynski did in The Brave and the Bold.

Starman #81 The most-heralded Blackest Night series revival has to be this one issue of James Robinson’s Starman. Naturally Robinson – who writes the issue – sticks to his guns by having Jack Knight stay retired despite his brother being raised by the black lantern rings to wreak havoc on Opal City; instead we catch up with some of his supporting cast to see where they’ve ended up since Jack left and his father died. Naturally the Shade figures as the prominent hero. It’s a clever way to do another Starman issue without really doing another Starman issue. Even the art evokes some of the low-key feel of the original series, although I’ve never been a big fan of Bill Sienkiewicz’s endless squiggles as an inker.

It works as an add-on to the original series, rather than just a cynical Blackest Night tie-in. (Don McPherson notes that readers of the series are likely to enjoy the issue more than people surfing by due to the tie-in, which is exactly right.)

I’ve heard a rumor (which may be baseless) that Robinson is interested in doing a Shade series. I’d totally sign up for that.

The Thing: Project Pegasus If you want to see how they did good superhero comics when I was a teenager (in the 1980s), Marvel has two fine hardcover collections out this week. First (and best), is the Thing in Project Pegasus, from his old Marvel Two-in-One series. If you can believe it, there was once a series (it ran for 100 issues!) which mostly featured this member of the Fantastic Four teaming up with a different hero every month, often with good stories and better artwork. Project Pegasus was the apex of the series, a 6-issue story featuring some third- and fourth-string supporting characters, but what made it work was the setting: Ol’ blue-eyes signs on for a tour as a security guard at Project Pegasus, a high-security prison and research institute for super-powered criminals, as well as heroes and innocents who need some sort of high-tech treatment. During his stint, an outside organization infiltrates the project for their own nefarious aims, leading to a major disaster (when their main agent goes rogue) which Ben and company have to fight.

Admittedly, the motivations of the infiltrating organization are a little vague, but it’s still cracking good superhero adventure stuff. Great art by Byrne, Pérez and company, too. The series has also been collected in paperback in the past, but the hardcover has a 2-part story which introduced Pegasus 2 years earlier. Check it out.

X-Men: The Asgardian Wars Then there’s X-Men: The Asgardian Wars, which was arguably Chris Claremont’s last hurrah as a great comics writer. The Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants titles (the main X-books in the late 80s) had been spluttering along in gradual artistic decline (in my opinion) when Claremont put together this pair of 2-part stories featuring Marvel’s mutants facing off against the Norse god Loki. First Loki tries to gain favors from even more powerful gods by forcing a boon on humanity, and the X-Men and the Canadian team Alpha Flight have to deal with the consequences. Then, perturbed by the X-Men’s interference, Loki abducts Storm (who was powerless at the time) and accidentally knocks a collection of New Mutants across the realm of Asgard, where they find themselves rather out of their league. The X-Men join in the fun to foil Loki, who’s really just entertaining himself while waiting for the right moment to make a play for the throne of Asgard.

The first story is one of Claremont’s better moral dilemmas for his characters, putting the heroes on opposite sides of a complex issue, and it’s lushly illustrated by the great Paul Smith. The second story more of a straightforward adventure story, and it’s drawn by Arthur Adams just as he was getting good, although it still has a little too much of the “boobs, boobs and more boobs” style he sometimes lapses into, and the finishes are not as clean nor the work as detailed as his later stuff.

But honestly I think this was the last great X-Men story. Yeah yeah, Grant Morrison, Josh Whedon, Warren Ellis, blah blah blah. None of them turned out X-Men stories as good as this. And this was just the last gasp of the “All-New, All-Different X-Men”; it used to be even better.

This Week's Haul

A.K.A., last week’s haul, desperately late.

I thumbed through Marvel’s The Siege in the store and decided – as I do for nearly every Marvel event comic – to skip it. Chad Nevitt at Comics Should Be Good sums it up pretty well: The “Dark Avengers” (villains acting as the Avengers since the real Avengers have been ousted by the powers that be) attack Thor and Asgard. My fundamental problem with Marvel’s events – and the way their comics have gone generally in recent years – is that the heroes aren’t very heroic. J. Michael Straczynski’s Thor was bland and dull, and having a bunch of villains attack a group of gods who really aren’t very heroic themselves is just not interesting to me. Sure, I like Thor a lot better than I like the villains, so I’d prefer him to “win”, but I don’t care enough to get engaged with the story.

  • Suicide Squad #67, by Gail Simone, John Ostrander & Jim Calafiore (DC)
  • Echo #18, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • B.P.R.D.: King of Fear #1 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Gigantic #5 of 5, by Rick Remender & Eric Nguyen (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #38, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
Suicide Squad #67 Part of DC’s Blackest Night event involves resurrecting some cancelled comics series of years past for one more issue. One of the more unusual comics of the late 80s/early 90s was John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, which Gail Simone’s Secret Six bears some resemblance to: The Squad were villains who were recruited for high-risk government-sanctioned missions, with the promise of a pardon afterwards. The Six are a small organization of criminals. The Six are sort of the darker version of the Squad.

So in this one-issue revival of Suicide Squad, there’s a little of the usual rigamarole regarding dead Squad members being revived as black lanterns, but mainly it’s about Amanda Waller of the Squad deciding she needs Deadshot for a mission, and staging a trap for the Six to both put them out of business and capture Deadshot to force him to rejoin. It’s a good set-up for the next Secret Six story arc, and Ostrander and Simone co-write it. It ought to be good, as long as the black lanterns don’t play too big a role.

Gigantic #5 Rick Remender and Eric Nguyen’s Gigantic comes to an end, the last issue being extremely late (issue #4 came out last May), and unfortunately it wasn’t worth the wait. The trappings are those of big monsters smashing each other, but the story itself is rather depressing, and the upbeat ending in this issue not only doesn’t really put a brave face on the earlier events, but it feels very out-of-place next to the rest of the story. Greg Burgas found it disappointing, too, and he touches on some of the series’ other flaws: The lead character is unsympathetic, the story is hard to follow despite not being very complicated.

Nguyen’s art doesn’t work for me at all: It’s too sketchy, which doesn’t do justice to the designs of the characters. I didn’t care for it in Sandman Mystery Theatre a few years ago, either.

For a similar premise – a young man leaves with aliens, and comes back years later to find he can’t go home again – I’d recommend Dan Vado’s graphic novel The Griffin instead. It has its flaws too, but the story is far more satisfying than Gigantic.

This Week's Haul

Due to the unfortunate timing of the Christmas holiday this year, there was only one comic published this week. My local store threw a sale this week, too, so it was actually quite busy when I went in Wednesday afternoon. Sounds like a win for them.

By the way, you can also read what their top-sellers were for 2009; no huge surprises, although Irredeemable vol 1 being their 10th-best-selling graphic novel was interesting. It’s well worth checking out, too.

  • Blackest Night #6 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert & Joe Prado (DC)
Blackest Night #6 Has Blackest Night been a smash hit for DC comics? Commercially, there’s no question, it’s been a huge success, building on top of the growing readership of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern run, and trying to use that to build interest in other DC titles. To put it cynically, that’s basically the point of comics “events”: Get people to pick up some books they wouldn’t otherwise read, and hope a few of them stick around to keep reading them. While I think they could have executed the crossover aspect better (I’ve griped that the free ring promotion was undercut by the issues promoted by the rings didn’t make much effort to explain to new readers what was going on or why we should care), overall DC certainly deserves credit for their marketing of the event.

But is the story any good?

To compare it to other recent events, it doesn’t have a high bar to cross. Of DC’s recent events, Identity Crisis was a collection of continuity navel-gazing mixed with a vile rewriting of some characters’ actions and motivations; Infinite Crisis had a plot that made no sense whatsoever and which introduced one of the least-welcome villains in recent years in Superboy Prime; and Final Crisis was no more comprehensible while additionally being pretentious and focusing on a lot of third- and fourth-string characters. Marvel’s events have been better-executed, although the stories haven’t been much good either; Civil War mucked up characters’ motivations in unbelievable ways, and Secret Invasion (Marvel’s equivalent of DC’s awful late-80s event Millennium) had an unbelievable plot.

By contrast, Blackest Night is fairly comprehensible, and rather than working with long-forgotten details of continuity, it grows out of Geoff Johns’ current storylines in Green Lantern, in which he’s introduced a full spectrum of magic-ring-wielding organizations, each tied to a different emotion. While perhaps a bit cute, Johns has established that he’s more interested in moving his story forward than in making everything line up perfectly with all the GL history from the past, and these days that seems almost novel.

As for the story itself, here’s how it’s developed so far:

  • Blackest Night #0: In this Free Comic Book Day giveaway, Green Lantern (the Hal Jordan version) and Flash (the Barry Allen version) catch up on recent developments in the DC universe, especially characters who have recently died, including Batman, whose grave they’re visiting during their reminiscence. After they leave, a minor GL villain Black Hand shows up to claim Batman’s skull (a good trick, since the last pages of Final Crisis showed that Wayne wasn’t actually dead, even though there was a body, but I suspect Johns is ignoring this detail) and state that by his hand the dead shall rise. Green Lantern #43 goes into detail about the Hand’s background.
  • Blackest Night #1: From the giant black lantern in space sector 666, black power rings emerge and fly across the universe, on the same day that the Earth remembers all his fallen heroes. Meanwhile, a “war of light” erupts among the various lantern corps. The black rings resurrect many of Earth’s dead heroes, and several of them kill and recruit Hawkman and Hawkgirl. In Green Lantern #44, Flash and GL fight the undead Martian Manhunter, learning that the zombie-like creatures cannot be killed.
  • Blackest Night #2: Undead Aquaman kills Aqualad, and the black ring takes over The Spectre. The black rings are unable to recruit Dove, however. In Green Lantern #45, the black lanterns start attacking other ring wielders.
  • Blackest Night #3: The black lantern Justice League fight Flash, GL and the Atom, the tribe of indigo lanterns show up to save them, revealing that a Green Lantern’s ring combined with one of the other colors can sever the black rings’ connections to their hosts. GL is spirited away by the indigo tribe, and the black rings take over Firestorm and claim the villains whose corpses are (oddly) buried below the Justice League’s headquarters.
  • Blackest Night #4: The world’s heroes fight a losing battle against the black lanterns as the black power levels reach 100%. The main black lantern is transported to Earth, and we learn that the entity behind the rings is a minor villain named Nekron. Over in Green Lantern, GL and the indigo lanterns recruit different colored lanterns to fight the black lanterns.
  • Blackest Night #5: The Justice League shows up to help Flash, Atom and Mera fight the black lanterns, and GL’s rainbow corps arrives to fight Nekron, but they don’t have the power to shut down Nekron’s battery. The black rings execute and recruit all the heroes who have died and been resurrected, such as Superman and Wonder Woman.
  • Blackest Night #6: In the latest issue, Flash’s quick thinking saves him and GL from the same fate as the other resurrected heroes. One of the Guardians of the Universe, Ganthet, uses his power to cause the various colored rings to generate new rings and recruit various candidates from Earth, to boost their power against Nekron.

There are still 2 issues to go – plus whatever Johns does over in Green Lantern – and the story feels fairly convoluted. It’s essentially been a running battle between the living and the dead, with the living having little hope of winning unless the lanterns can pull together and somehow destroy Nekron’s battery. The story seems to have taken place over only a couple of days (certainly no one’s caught any sleep or even had a shower during the series), which makes it rather brief for a whole war. But that’s comic books for you.

The motivations in the story are reasonably sensical for superhero comics: Nekron is an avatar of death who wants to eradicate all life to return the universe to a peaceful state (oddly, this detail is explained in an issue of Adventure Comics rather than in the main series). Why he needs to work through Black Hand to do this is not explained, though. The main emotional tension in the story is in the seven different ring-wielders trying to work together, especially since the red and orange lanterns aren’t exactly joiners. But it’s not exactly deep stuff.

And that’s really the series’ flaw: Even though it’s not the usual cynical crossover series, it’s basically just a big slugfest, with desperate situations and some witty dialogue thrown in. Johns has certainly done much better character-oriented drama in Green Lantern and I wonder if Blackest Night would have worked better had it been constrained to just the GL titles rather than roping in every character in the DC universe. The cast of characters has gotten so large that it’s difficult to care much about anyone, because there’s not much room for proper development. (Obviously, this ended up being the case in the grand-daddy of all crossover series, Crisis on Infinite Earths, but back then we didn’t really know what the drawback of such sprawling stories would be. Marv Wolfman, the writer of that crisis, took some interesting approaches to make the story more personal despite its huge scale, too, and Johns only occasionally personalizes things in Blackest Night.)

Could Blackest Night be better? Certainly, although it would probably be a fairly different story. Is it better than other recent DC events? That’s also true. Event comics always have a tendency to go for the lowest common denominator (although Marvel’s tried to avoid that at the cost of making uncomfortable and sometimes implausible changes to their characters and settings), so seeing one rise above that low level is interesting enough. Still, unless Johns has a big surprise up his sleeve, Blackest Night looks like it’s going to end up as just one more sprawling fight, a very nicely drawn one by Ivan Reis and his cast of inkers, but still, not a truly memorable series.

Check back in two months and we’ll see how things turned out.

This Week's Haul

Two weeks worth of books this time, since I didn’t get around to doing an entry last week before heading to Disneyland for the weekend.

Last Week:

  • The Marvels Project #4 of 8, by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • Nova #32, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • Echo #17, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • The Secret History #7 of 7, by Jean-Pierre Pécau & Igor Kordey (Archaia)
  • Absolution #4 of 6, by Christos Gage & Roberto Viacava (Avatar)
  • The Boys #37, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)

I skipped JSA: All-Stars, not just because I didn’t really care about following “Power Girl and the third-stringers”, but because the artwork looked pretty awful. I’ll stick with the team which at least has a few of the classic members, thanks.

This Week:

  • Booster Gold #27, by Dan Jurgens, Mike Norton & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Doom Patrol #5, by Keith Giffen, Justiniano & Livesay, and J.M. DeMatteis, Tim Levins & Dan Davis (DC)
  • R.E.B.E.L.S. #11, by Tony Bedard, Claude St. Aubin & Scott Hanna (DC)
  • Secret Six #16, by Gail Simone, Peter Nguyen, Doug Hazlewood & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • The Unwritten #8, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Collection vol 3, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #4, by John Arcudi & Peter Snejbjerg (Dark Horse)
  • Phonogram: The Singles Club #6 of 7, by Keiron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie, and P.J. Holden & Adam Cadwell (Image)
The Secret History book 7 I started picking up The Secret History back before I knew it was a translation of a European comic that Archaia was printing. It got off to a pretty good start, though (albeit way back in 2007). As the title says, the story is a shadow history in which four individuals gain immortality and great powers through runestones they acquire early in humanity’s history, and they use it to influence events over the centuries, eventually warring against each other, forming and breaking alliances, and often using catspaws to do their work.

The early issues held together pretty well, but as the series progressed the overall story became very hard to follow, and even single issues were pretty confusing in terms of figuring out who’s who and what they’re up to and why. Greg Burgas has the series sized up well, as at the end of this 7-issue series the story isn’t over. It ends abruptly, actually on something of a cliffhanger, at the end of World War I. That left me wondering why I’d bothered; there wasn’t a big finish, and I just felt like I didn’t care about any of the characters by the end – I could barely tell who they were!

The art is often quite good, but it’s not enough to make up for the story. I can’t fault author Pécau for the ambitious plot, but the execution just didn’t work for me. Even if there is a follow-up series (and I haven’t heard of one), I’m not interested enough to follow it.

Doom Patrol #5

R.E.B.E.L.S. #11

I decided to pick up this month’s Doom Patrol and R.E.B.E.L.S. to see how the Blackest Night tie-in stories begun last week shake out. The answer is: Not so well, as both are essentially big slugfests against overwhelming odds, with the heroes more-or-less cheating their way to victory. Heck, they even find the exact same resolution to their dilemma in each case! Disappointing. The most interesting element of either series – Vril Dox acquiring a Sinestro Corps ring – is discarded at the end of the R.E.B.E.L.S. issue, too. Oh well.

I’m not interested enough in either Adventure Comics or Justice League to even pick up the second part of those tie-in stories. (If Adventure had had a Legion of Super-Heroes back-up in the second part, I might have given in. But instead it has Superboy-Prime – whom I hate, as I’ve said before – in the lead story, and the Connor Kent Superboy in the backup. Whatever.)

Considering Blackest Night presented some of these series with excellent opportunities to convince new readers like me that they were worth following, it’s pretty lame that they all did such a bad job in doing so, focusing instead on the Blackest Night story arc rather than trying to sell themselves on their merits. I assume this is just a total editorial misfire, although Booster Gold does a better job than the others of presenting its merits within its own Blackest Night tie-in. Then again, I already read Booster Gold regularly.

Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Collection vol 3 The third hardcover collection of Powers is out this week, and in my opinion it contains the two best stories of this excellent series: “The Sellouts” focuses on a Justice League-like team which went commercial, and then (unofficially) broke up. When the Batman-like member is killed (on camera, his killer not appearing on the tape), detectives Walker and Pilgrim investigate, and air all the dirty laundry the team’s kept under wraps for years. Rather to the displeasure of some members of the team. For what starts as a rather routine detective story for this series, it takes a sharp turn at the end which makes it both a very different story, and one which fundamentally changes the nature of the Powers world (setting up the next series, to some extent).

“Forever” is the other arc in the volume, and it was in a way an epilogue to the first Powers series, but it’s also a crucial piece in the overall story: It fills out the background of Detective Christian Walker, who it turns out is more than merely a de-powered superhero who became a cop. But there hadn’t been much sign of this until this story. In other circumstances, that might sound unsatisfying, but Bendis uses the premise to craft an a story which both defines the nature of superheroes in the Powers universe, and to make Walker a more significant and more tragic figure than he’d been before.

While Powers is best read from the beginning, you can read this volume on its own if you’d like to try it by starting with the very best the series has to offer. In any event, with the third Powers series having started a few weeks ago, this is a good point to catch up on what’s happened before so you can fully enjoy the new one.

This Week's Haul

In addition to the usual comics, this week fans of superhero noir can buy the collected Incognito by Brubaker & Phillips, and fans of Alan Moore can pick up the second volume of Saga of the Swamp Thing in hardcover (containing perhaps the single best issue of that series, when Swampy descends into hell to rescue his love’s soul). Both recommended.

  • Blackest Night #5 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Green Lantern #48, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • Justice League of America #39, by James Robinson, Mark Bagley & Rob Hunter (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #33, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #17, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (DC/Vertigo)
  • Saga of the Swamp Thing book two HC, by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette & John Totleben, with Shawn McManus, Ron Randall, Bernie Wrightson, Rick Veitch & Alfredo Alcala (DC)
  • Fantastic Four #573, by Jonathan Hickman, Neil Edwards & Andrew Currie (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #20, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker & Victor Olazaba (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #138, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
  • Immortal Weapons #5 of 5, by David Lapham & Arturo Lozzi, and Duane Swierczynski & Hatuey Diaz (Marvel)
  • Criminal: The Sinners #2, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Incognito TPB, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Powers volume 3 #1, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
Justice League of America #39 This is the last week for the Blackest Night ring-giveaway tie-ins, and the last comic I’ve picked up for it that I don’t regularly buy is Justice League of America. This series was launched after the cancellation of JLA (the one best known for Grant Morrison’s run, but which ran for another 6 years or so after he left), and has been rather controversial due to musical writers, and more-provocative-than-usual drawings of the heroines (you’d think this wouldn’t be a big surprise, but apparently it was pretty bad). The current creative team consister of Mark Bagley, one of the fastest artists in the business and in some ways a throwback to the superhero artists of yesteryear, and James Robinson, best known for his great Starman series of the 90s, but who has himself been generating some controversy in his Justice League: Cry For Justice mini-series. This, along with a rotating cast, has kept me far, far away from the JLA in recent years.

This Blackest Night issue is a horrible introduction to the series for new readers coming in via the tie-in. It focuses on a group of third-string Leaguers (Red Tornado – the original third-stringer, Plastic Man, Gypsy, Vixen, Dr. Light and Zatanna) entering the decimated Hall of Justice (yes, the JLA is now headquartered in the building from the Super Friends TV series; gah), and facing the zombie villains and heroes who were entombed in the basement of the JLA’s headquarters. Zatanna’s father Zatara is among the zombies, as is Vibe, the much-loathed member of “Justice League Detroit” from the 80s. It’s all a big fight against insurmountable odds in a shadowy setting, and as such seems completely meaningless.

This may be the worst Blackest Night tie-in I’ve read, as it reduces the series – whose premise got tiresome pretty quickly anyway – to its lowest common denominator. Bagley’s art is okay, although his style has veered towards being more cartoony than I prefer. But certainly this doesn’t give me any reason to keep reading the series after this issue. Awful.

Fantastic Four #573 Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s run on Fantastic Four seemed to be largely overlooked critically, and didn’t really help the sales of the series. But for all that Millar is a big-name comics writer (even though his writing is 180 degrees away from what I enjoy), it’s been his successor, Jonathan Hickman, whose run – now all of 4 issues old – has been getting the word of mouth. Indeed, when I decided a couple of weeks ago to check it out, I found his first two issues, but his third issue was sold out at my usual store, and at the next store I went to, and had only one copy remaining at the third store. Honestly I’d never even heard of Hickman before, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In the text page of last month’s issue, #572, Hickman makes an insightful observation:

Well, one of the biggest perceived problems I see is it’s not perceived as a book about the Fantastic Four anymore. I think, because of all the tent-pole events Marvel has been doing, and how integral to their story Mr. Fantastic has been, the book – heck, the entire FF universe – has become, by inclusion of exclusion, completely Reed-centric… almost like it’s Mr. Richards and his merry band of heroes.

I think this is spot-on: By virtue of his leadership skills and brilliant mind, Reed has always had a tendency to overwhelm everyone else. For many years, writers would take various tacks to either make the other three characters more prominent (the Thing and Human Torch’s larger-than-life personalities, John Byrne making the Invisible Woman more capable and showing his truly powerful her abilities could be), or by crippling Reed in some way (moving him off the stage for a while, making him depressed or cursed by self-doubt or playing up his problems relating to normal humans), and it worked to a greater or lesser degree. (To be fair, my clinical descriptions of how the writers handled the team dynamics don’t do justice to the actual stories, which are often quite entertaining. I’m just sayin’.) Anyway, Millar’s run was just the apex of the long-term move towards making Reed’s intellect truly world-changing, practically rendering his teammates superfluous. The first two stories in Millar’s run (which I’ve read in paperback form) focus on world-changing intellects as great as Reed’s, so any true solution to their challenges have to come from Reed himself, with his teammates being just the muscle to get the job done. Millar loves to play with world-changing intellects in his characters, but I find his portrayals of them to be grim and depressing, and considering the FF have at their best been first-and-foremost an adventure magazine, rooted in the Doc Savage pulp tradition, the book ends up not seeming like the FF.

So Hickman seems intent on pulling back from all that, and ironically he starts his run with a 3-part story focusing on Reed (the irony of which he acknowledges in the aforementioned text page), followed by this month’s issue, in which Ben and Johnny travel to Nu-World (a duplicate Earth) to deal with the long-term ramifications of one of the stories from Millar’s run, and in which we learn that Reed and Sue’s daughter Valeria is smarter than Reed himself, albeit keeping that mostly to herself.

Hickman has set himself a big challenge in trying to rework the team into a team. The Reed story is actually pretty effective in helping ground Reed in his family by showing him how his life could go if he’s not careful, and in showing him in flashback as a child interacting with his father. It’s a first step, but a good one. This issue is less effective, as the notion that Valeria is that smart is just nuts (contrasting her with Franklin being rather, well, childish – despite having been shown as mature for his age in years past – is also annoying). While I can’t fault Hickman trying to tie up loose ends from Millar’s run, I rather wonder if he’d have gotten more mileage out of just ignoring those loose ends altogether.

As a set, these four issues are not a bad start to a run, but I think Hickman’s taking it maybe a little too slow to get the FF to where he wants them to be. Maybe I’m just impatient.

Artwise, Dale Eaglesham is the regular artist on the series, and his work has improved since he pencilled Justice Society of America for DC. #573 has fill-in art by Neil Edwards and Andrew Currie. I haven’t seen Edwards’ work before, but his layouts and pencils here seem like a dead ringer for Bryan Hitch’s work. That’s not a bad thing (especially if you’re a Hitch fan), but it is a little creepy. Still, you have nothing to worry about as far as the art goes; I think these guys are up to drawing anything Hickman can give them.

By the way, the cover to the left has absolutely nothing to do with the contents of the story. I assume this was intentional, since Ben, Johnny, Franklin and Valeria were going to Nu-World on a vacation, but the trip turns out rather differently than planned, so I suspect the cover is intended to make the reader surprised by where the story goes. It’s dirty pool, though; lying about the contents is almost worse than having a generic cover which doesn’t mean anything. Nice try, though.

Powers #1 I have not been a fan of Brian Michael Bendis’ series in the Marvel Universe, but I am quite a fan of his series Powers, drawn by Michael Avon Oeming. The series’ original premise was a couple of beat cops who investigate crimes involving super-powers. The series evolved considerably through its first two runs, as we learn that detective Christian Walker used to be a hero himself before he lost his powers (and his background is very unusual indeed). Then the United States outlawed the use of powers. But then Walker gained new powers as the cosmic defender of Earth (a fact he keeps secret), and his partner, Deena Pilgrim, gained rather darker powers through a virulent drug going around the city. The second series resolved quite a few things in rather satisfying manner, and then the series went on hiatus. If that had been the end of it, it was a good note to go out on. Happily, the series has been relaunched with its third #1 issue this week.

This issue gets back to the series’ cop-detective roots, as Walker and his new partner, Enki Sunrise (no, really), investigate the death of an old man whom Walker seems to remember from a different era in his life. Walker and Sunrise have an uneasy relationship (other cops aren’t too fond of them either), but it’s nice to see that Walker seems more sure of himself these days than back when the series began; he’s really developed as a character (which is saying something, considering his background).

In many ways Powers is the original superhero noir series of the current era, and this issue looks like a good jumping-on point for people who haven’t read the earlier stories (although all of them have been collected in paperback – and many in hardcover). So if this sounds like your kind of thing, then definitely check it out. It’s good.

This Week's Haul

  • Adventure Comics #4, by Geoff Johns, Sterling Gates, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek, and Michael Shoemaker & Clayton Henry (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #29, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • The Flash: Rebirth #5 of 6, by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Scyver (DC)
  • Outsiders #24, by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin, Scott Hanna & Prentis Rollins (DC)
  • Victorian Undead #1, by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Hercules: Full Circle HC, by Bob Layton (Marvel)
  • Realm of Kings one-shot, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Leonardo Manco & Mahmud Asrar (Marvel)
  • Echo #16, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Irredeemable #8, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • Invincible #68, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Phonogram: The Singles Club #5 of 7, by Keiron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie (Image)
Adventure Comics #4 Two more books this week which tie in to DC’s Lantern ring giveaway. Adventure Comics was launched when the most recent Legion of Super-Heroes series came to an end. Its lead story features Superboy (the Connor Kent/Teen Titans version), and its backup features the Legion – the “classic” team which Geoff Johns reintroduced in Action Comics and Legion of 3 Worlds. I decided not to follow it along because I have no interest in this incarnation of Superboy.

Oddly, the lead story here is draw by Jerry Ordway, and not regular artist Francis Manapul, so as much as I like Ordway (although this isn’t his best stuff) it doesn’t give me any feeling for what the series has really been like. Plus, this issue doesn’t actually have much Superboy, but rather brings back Superman-Prime, the insufferable villain who finally got his comeuppance at the end of Legion of 3 Worlds. Honestly if I never see Prime again, it’ll be too soon.

The backup features two Legion characters who have been torn apart by the events of Lo3W, and getting back together with a little assistance from two other star-crossed lovers on the team. It’s a nice character story in its way, but it feels more like the beginning of a larger arc than just a backup tale. If Adventure Comics were all Legion, then it might be worth following, but just the backups isn’t enough to get me back on board.

Outsiders #24 Outsiders is the latest incarnation of the Mike W. Barr-penned Batman spin-off title from the 1980s, which was pretty mediocre stuff back then. This one seems more interesting, as the resurrected dead villain Terra seeks out her brother and – in a turnaround from how many of the resurrected heroes have been acting – can’t stand her new existence, and wants help in ending it. While this might be some sort of a bait-and-switch on Terra’s part, writer Peter Tomasi pulls it off pretty convincingly; the notion of what zombies think about being zombies is an often-overlooked facet of the genre. (Most of them don’t think, of course, but that’s not the case in the premise of Blackest Night.)

The other half of the story involves Katana being waylaid by her dead husband and children, and is more routine angst/combat stuff. But Fernando Pasarin’s pencils are quite good, making this a pretty solid read overall. The only downside is that it doesn’t give me – a new reader brought in via the ring giveaway – much orientation for who these Outsiders are, why they’re outsiders, or what their organization is like. But of all the Blackest Night tie-ins, this is the one I’m mostly like to give another shot.

Victorian Undead #1 Ian Edginton wrote the terrific Scarlet Traces about what happened to England and Earth after the defeat of the invaders in The War of the Worlds, so even though I’m suffering a bit of zombie exhaustion, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and check out Victorian Undead, which as you can see from the cover involves Sherlock Holmes and zombies (although contrary to the cover, Holmes is not himself a zombie). The premise is that a meteor shower in the 1850s led to the rise of zombies in London, and in the 1890s Holmes and Watson have to grapple with their emergence (or maybe return – the timeline is left deliberately blank as I expect it’s one of the mysteries to be explored in the series).

Edginton injects some serious steampunk – in the form of a humaniform robot – into Holmes’ milieu, on top of the zombies. This first issue is entirely set-up, with shadowy governmental figures trying to keep a lid on things. I’m sure we all know how well that will work. Whether or not we’ll see other Victorian-era icons, I don’t know. Davide Fabbri looks like a decent artist, although with just enough of overtones of an Image style (gratuitous lines, unnecessary flourishes) for me to not fully embrace his style. But overall the series gets off to a good start, if you can stand another zombie title. Hopefully Edginton has more in mind than just “Sherlock Holmes and zombies”, though, because I don’t think that’s enough to carry the series. Zombies, after all, have been done before.

Hercules: Full Circle premiere HC I gushed a few months ago about the first hardcover collection of Bob Layton’s Hercules mini-series from the 80s. This month we get the second collection, containing the “Full Circle” graphic novel which concludes the character’s story, plus a short story and a 3-part epilogue that I hadn’t read before.

Layton’s art seems more than a bit dated today, but some of the stuff he tries to put over on the reader is amusing just for its audacity (like the supporting character “Lucynda Thrust”), and it works completely as a lighthearted buddy story. I doubt it’d be for everyone’s taste, but I’ve always loved it.

Realm of Kings one-shot I was very reluctant to pick up anything related to Realm of Kings considering what a bust War of Kings was, but something made me buy this one-shot. I’m glad I did, because it’s a neat little story: Quasar goes through the rift opened at the end of the war, and ends up on a parallel Earth in which the Avengers have given themselves over to the Great Old Ones, and who are interested in extending their reach into Quasar’s universe. While an obvious twist on the whole Marvel Zombies thing, the notion of the superheroes corrupted into becoming dark magicians could have legs. Then again, maybe it would be less entertaining if stretched out too far.

Leonardo Manco does a great job drawing the corrupted Earth and its heroes, and Abnett and Lanning have fun with the dark heroes (“What the Ftaghn?” exclaims Ms. Marvel) and figuring out how to get Quasar back where he belongs. As one-shots go, this one’s a lot of fun. Whether or not any of the rest of Realm of Kings – a collection of mini-series – will be, I have no idea, but as they mostly feature characters I don’t care about (the Inhumans, the Imperial Guard), I doubt I’ll give it more than a passing glance. Wake me when the main heroes get involved.

Echo #16 It’s time to check back in on Terry Moore’s Echo. It’s been slow going, but the story has been gradually revealing itself. Our heroine, Julie, accidentally got covered with a metallic substance which gives her odd powers she can’t really control, mainly being able to shock people with an energy zap. The creators of the metal have been after her, including hiring a mercenary Ivy, to bring her in. Julie’s also encountered a man – apparently a vagrant – who also has some of the metal, resulting in destruction and some death when they meet. After being on the run for some time, Julie’s gone with Ivy – who’s turned on her bosses and also retrieved Julie’s mentally-disturbed sister Pam – and is hiding with her.

That’s a lot of story, but it hasn’t felt like that much while reading it. It’s mostly felt like a fairly routine chase/suspense story with the mystery of the metal lurking in the background. What seems to be revealed here is where the title “Echo” comes from, as Julie is wondering if she’s able to communicate with the last – and deceased – wearer of the metal, a woman named Annie. There are also indications that Julie’s role may take on messianic overtones.

I can’t say that Echo has been one of my favorite comics – the glacial pace made me drop Moore’s previous series, the popular Strangers in Paradise – but it’s been interesting. Whether it’s all worth it will depend on whether Moore is able to bring it all to a big finish, whenever that comes. After a fashion, Echo reminds me of Jeff Smith’s current series, RASL in its tone, suspenseful structure, and fantastic mystery. To his credit, Moore has been publishing Echo nearly monthly, which makes it easier to stay attached to. And I like how Moore’s art has developed better than the caricature-dominated art Smith brings to RASL.

It’s a little odd that after 16 issues Echo is still at the point where it has more potential and actuality. Hopefully over the next year Moore will kick it into gear and turn it into something unique and exciting. But it’s not quite there yet.

(By the way, the covers tend to be much more dramatic than the contents; Julie is not nearly the ass-kicking heroine she seems to be on the cover to the left.)

This Week's Haul

  • Batman and Robin #6, by Grant Morrison, Philip Tan & Jonathan Glapion (DC)
  • Batman/Doc Savage Special, by Brian Azzarello & Phil Noto (DC)
  • Booster Gold #26, by Dan Jurgens, Mike Norton & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Fables #90, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #42, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • JSA vs. Kobra #6 of 6, by Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • R.E.B.E.L.S. #10, by Tony Bedard & Andy Clarke (DC)
  • The Unwritten #7, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1947 #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart, Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon (Dark Horse)
  • Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #8 of 8, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
Batman and Robin #6 The second arc of Batman and Robin has taken some criticism due to the fairly extreme stylistic change from Frank Quitely (on the first arc) to Philip Tan (on this one). It is an extreme change, but I thought Tan was fine in issue #4; the problem is his style got progressively looser to the point where it’s actually rather grotesque in this issue. It’s still serviceable, but yeah, I can see where the complaints are coming from.

Then again, the story’s not much, either. The main villain, the Red Hood (a.k.a. Jason Todd, formerly Robin) is portrayed as a vicious counterpoint to Batman, although as a despised character who died and came back to life, it’s hard to care about his motivations. Another villain, Flamingo, shows up here to take out the Red Hood, until Batman and Robin show up to stop them both. It’s a perfect example of how Morrison seems to pack just too much into his stories at times, and Flamingo’s arrival undercuts the drama between Batman and the Hood, which was underdeveloped to start with.

So far, Batman and Robin has been more style than substance, with Morrison unable to properly develop his themes or his characters. In fits and starts he’s pulled together some interesting pieces, but hasn’t really used them effectively so far.

Batman/Doc Savage Special The Batman/Doc Savage special appears to be an introduction to something called “The First Wave”, which from the back of this issue seems to be an upcoming series by Brian Azzarello taking a group of pulp and golden age heroes and introducing them in a new setting, apparently in the present day, but with a mix of styles dating from the 1920s to today. So here we have Batman (at the beginning of his career) and Doc Savage (an established hero), to be joined later by The Avenger, The Spirit, Black Canary and the Blackhawks. I’ve always liked the notion of relaunching established characters in a different milieu, but this is perhaps not the set I’d have chosen. But Azzarello seems to write a lot of pulp-influenced stuff, and it’s his show, so here we have it.

This story involves Batman suspected of murder and Doc Savage coming to Gotham to bring him in. Batman wields a pair of guns (but not to kill), Doc uses his muscle, and the two of course come to a meeting of the minds by the end. Chris Sims’ critique of the story is mostly spot-on, although I disagree about Batman using guns, a facet of his character here that doesn’t bother me, although his wishy-washy use of them is annoying, I agree. Batman has always been a character who could use guns, but mostly hasn’t for various reasons depending on his interpretation. But Sims hits the nail on the head as far as the plot goes: It’s obvious, and dragged out. Additionally, the characters just aren’t very likeable, and Bruce Wayne in particular is portrayed in a very annoying manner (honestly I think the occasional “Bruce Wayne, airhead playboy” schtick that some writers drag out is just plain stupid, and not in the least funny).

So overall this is a pretty weak introduction of a fairly interesting series. But The First Wave will have to be a lot better than this to be worth reading.

JSA vs. Kobra #6 JSA vs. Kobra was a 6-issue miniseries which sort-of spun off from the JSA’s battles with the fictional terrorist organization Kobra from their previous regular series, which doesn’t really explain why it’s being published now. It also relates to Mr. Terrific being one of the leaders of Kobra’s good-guy opposite number, the spy organization Checkmate.

Other than the JSA, none of these organizations matters one whit to me, and the series doesn’t relate to the team’s current adventures at all. So why bother publishing this? And heck, why did I bother buying it?

It’s also not much good. Its plot strives to be a games-within-games match in which Kobra is playing several different angles at once (although to what end, I can’t figure out; if Kobra’s angling for world domination, they’re doing a crappy job of it), while the JSA tries to outmaneuver them. There’s some ongoing tension between the JSA’s co-leaders, Power Girl and Mr. Terrific, mainly over whether Terrific owes his loyalties to the JSA or to Checkmate (the latter of which has been infiltrated by Kobra spies), but it never feels very suspenseful and is resolved almost offhandedly.

Eric S. Trautmann’s script (he’s an author I’ve never heard of before this series) is pretty mechanical, and Don Kramer’s pencils are pretty but not very dynamic. He does seem to meet one of the main criteria for a JSA penciller, though, that being an ability to put Power Girl’s chest front-and-center:

JSA vs. Kobra #6 page 12

At the end of the series, Kobra has been defeated, but obviously will come back in the future. The JSA hasn’t managed to eradicate the group, and none of the JSAers have really had any satisfying story arcs. The whole thing is played very low key despite the high stakes.

If you enjoy superhero pseudo-spy yarns, then this might be for you. Everyone else, give it a pass.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #10 R.E.B.E.L.S. #10 is one of two Blackest Night ring giveaway tie-ins this week (the other being Booster Gold #26, a series I already buy regularly). R.E.B.E.L.S. is a revival of the 90s series, which was the successor to L.E.G.I.O.N., itself a 20th century version of Legion of Super-Heroes that was launched in 1989 when the Legion was struggling to work out its continuity. If that doesn’t sound like one of the least-necessary revivals ever, then I don’t know what is.

Tony Bedard is a decent superhero writer, and Andy Clarke (whose name is misspelled on the cover – way to go DC) has an interesting style reminiscent of Steve Dillon. But issue #10 drops us ring-acquiring drive-by readers into the middle of an on-going story involving the nominal heroes (leader Vril Dox is more of an anti-hero) teaming up with some long-time DC villains to fight an even bigger long-time villain, Starro the Conqueror, who’s been transformed into a rather different entity than his already-chilling original form. (By the way, you can see an homage to the original Starro in the always-entertaining webcomic Plan B.)

The Black Lanterns are almost perfunctory to this story, which focuses on Starro enlisting the aid of Dox’s even-more-super-intelligent son, backing the R.E.B.E.L.S. into a corner, although it looks like next issue will involve a fight between Dox and the Black Lantern version of a former member of the team, as the issue ends on a cliffhanger.

Still, in a book headlined by a rather despicable character, mostly featuring other C-listers I don’t really care about, I might pick up the next issue but this isn’t enough to make me sign on for the long haul, especially since I lost interest in the original version of this team over 15 years ago. (Don McPherson liked it better than I do, though.)

B.P.R.D.: 1947 #5 B.P.R.D.: 1947 was one of the best recent stories of this long-running series, but unfortunately 1948 doesn’t follow it up as strongly. Trevor Bruttenholm mostly stays on the sidelines, and the ultimate point of the story is to drive home to “Broom” that the department’s mission means he’ll be sending a lot of people out to their deaths, and can he live with that? This last issue is pretty good in that regard, but the first four, which focus on the mission in question, were pretty tedious, hamstrung by the fact that Broom stays at home the whole time.

I guess there will be a 1949 at some point, but since I expect to bail on B.P.R.D. after the long-running “War on Frogs” storyline concludes, I may not be around to see it.

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #8 Similarly, while Hellboy generally has been stronger than B.P.R.D. over the years, The Wild Hunt has been one of his weakest series. Not only does the mythical Wild Hunt only put in a token appearance across 8 issues, but the story involves examining Hellboy’s surprising lineage, and an equally surprising – and, honestly, rather silly – development which comes to a head in this issue. It had me shaking my head, as Hellboy has always done best by staying away from popular mythology, and bring King Arthur into the mix as happens here feels very out-of-place for the series.

Hellboy is at his best when he’s an ass-kicking, wise-cracking fighter of larger-than-life mythical monsters, but over the years Mignola has shrunk that side of his character and expanded him being pulled through various scenarios in scenes that are more talking that action, and that’s a lot less fun. It’s like Mignola’s fundamentally lost touch with the character, and that’s too bad, because he’s one of the most memorable comics creations of the last 30 years.

This Week's Haul

Powered by the love and affection of the Wizard convention circuit, it’s time for another round of reviews:

  • Doom Patrol #4, by Keith Giffen, Justiniano & Livesay, and J.M. DeMatteis & Kevin Maguire (DC)
  • Secret Six #15, by John Ostrander & Jim Calafiore (DC)
  • Astonishing X-Men #32, by Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning (Marvel)
  • Immortal Weapons #4 of 5, by Duane Swierczynski, Khari Evans, Victor Olazaba & Allen Martinez, and Hatuey Diaz (Marvel)
  • Nova #1, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • The Secret History book six, by Jean-Pierre Pécau & Igor Kordey (Archaia)
  • Absolution #3 of 6, by Christos Gage & Roberto Viacava (Avatar)
  • The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #2 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Age of Reptiles #1 of 4, by Ricardo Delgado (Dark Horse)
  • Witchfinder: In The Service of Angels #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #36, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Star Trek: Romulans: Schism #3 of 3, by John Byrne (IDW)
Doom Patrol #4 I admit it: I’m a sucker. I signed up with my comics shop for DC’s Blackest Night promotional ring giveaway. It’s not like I don’t have enough random crap around my house that I need a bunch of plastic rings, but something about the idea appealed to me just enough to sign up. The catch is that I’ll buy single issues of a bunch of comic books I don’t usually buy, so we’ll see if any of them are good enough to me to keep buying them. And you get to go along for the ride with me!

And I’m far from the only one jumping on this bandwagon: Lots of other people have, too, which means a big sales spike for some DC titles. Which probably means more of this promotional gimmick in the future. But that’s okay, I don’t have to buy into any more of them if I don’t want to.

Doom Patrol is the latest incarnation of the venerable Silver Age comic featuring normal people who acquired super powers which made them outcasts from the rest of society. At its best, the series plumbed the depths of this premise better than its Marvel counterpart, The X-Men; at its worst, it was routine superhero fare. Not a bad legacy for a book that was – aside the bizarre Grant Morrison run in the 80s – a B-list title. But as with many such titles from DC, the book has a history so convoluted I really can’t figure out its continuity, including a re-launch by John Byrne (which I skipped) which seemed to throw all previous continuity out the door (which, honestly, is fine with me) and return to the original cast of Robotman, Negative Man, Elasti-Woman and the Chief. Apparently Infinite Crisis restored the team’s previous continuity, which makes absolutely no sense to me, and it appears from the Wikipedia article that DC went to greater-than-usual lengths to explain away the inconsistencies. Sigh.

So this issue – which features the deceased members of the “new” Doom Patrol of the late 70s coming back to fight the “new original” team of this decade – makes my head hurt, since I understand just enough of the continuity to know who these people are, but not enough to be able to make any sense of how these two teams could coexist in their current state. Would it be easier for a new reader to make heads or tails of this book, or harder? I really have no idea.

Is the story any good? Well, it’s not awful, but it’s little more than a collection of disparate fights, and I don’t have enough attachment to any of the characters to feel the emotions that I’m presumably supposed to feel about the dead characters coming back, and honestly the main Blackest Night title has pretty much gone the distance with that premise anyway. The issue ends on a cliffhanger which is interesting enough that I just might buy the next issue, but it’s a close thing. As an introduction to the series, this issue isn’t a very good one. The art by Justiniano and Livesay (what is it with single-name artists these days, anyway?) is pretty good, solid, dynamic, stylistic enough to grab my attention, especially in the last two pages. If you like Doug Mahnke’s or Ariel Olivetti’s art, you’ll find the art here to your taste.

The issue features a back-up story by the creative team of Justice League International introducing a set of fembot villains for the Metal Men, another B-list team of Silver Age heroes, and who barely appear in the story. I wasn’t a fan of the jokey nature of the JLI era, so this story didn’t do much for me. (As back-ups go, the Blue Beetle story in the back of Booster Gold has been much better.)

So I can’t recommend Doom Patrol #4 for anything more than the promotional ring.

Age of Reptiles: The Journey #1 Ricardo Delgado published two Age of Reptiles mini-series a decade or so ago, and as an unreformed childhood dinosaur lover, I loved them. They’re serious “this is what it could have been like” stories of the giant lizards hunting, eating, fighting, protecting their young, only a little anthropomorphized to give the story a plot. Delgado’s artwork brings the creatures to life like nothing else I can recall seeing. They’re well worth seeking out.

Now the reptiles are back in The Journey, the first issue of which has left me slightly baffled. As you can see from the cover to the left, all the animals seem to be heading somewhere, and there are hints inside that they might be looking for warmer climate as the earth cools, and the mix of beasts could be from the late Cretaceous period. But the story seems a little buried in the set-up. Still, as I recall from the first two series, it’s the whole that matters, not just the individual issues.

Delgado’s art is still great, although it seems a little less detailed than in the past. Maybe my expectations for this series were so high that I was bound to be disappointed by the first issue. But I’ll still be picking up the whole thing, so check back in a few months to see if the whole outweighs the sum of the parts.

Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels #5 I’ve been on the Hellboy bandwagon for so long that I guess I’m just jaded. Some of the stories are very good, most are okay, few are bad. When push comes to shove, Witchfinder is closer to the “bad” end of the spectrum. Sir Edward Grey was a (fictional) occult investigator in the Victorian era, much like Hellboy in the 20th century. His adventure in this 5-issue series just didn’t make a lot of sense to me, trying to stop a demon killing people in London by reuniting it with its bones, and with various occult stops along the way. The story was too convoluted for me to sink my teeth into, and there wasn’t a single character worth caring about. Overall I think the series was just too clever for its own good, and it lost sight of telling a good story.
Star Trek: Romulans: Schism #3 John Byrne’s Star Trek Romulans series apparently comes to an end this month, a bit to my surprise as I’d thought this was going to be another 5-issue series.

As I’ve said before, Byrne’s telling easily the most entertaining Star Trek stories I’ve read in years, maybe decades, and he has the visual look of the classic Trek series down pat. His Romulan story has been a shadow history of the Klingon/Romulan alliance implied by the third season of classic Trek. The Hollow Crown described how the Klingons engineered the death of the Romulan Emperor to put their own puppet on the throne to get around the Organian Treaty forced on them with the Federation. Schism is the other end of that story, as hostilities among the Klingons, Federation and Romulans come to a head in a fairly nifty (and wonderfully well-illustrated) space battle.

The only real downside to the story is that it ends rather abruptly, with a literal deus-ex-machina with no believable explanation for why it didn’t arise previously. The story ends seemingly setting up yet another arc in the same storyline, but I understand this is the last chapter, so I’m not quite sure what’s going on.

That’s really the achilles heel in Byrne’s Trek stories: They’re entertaining, but the endings are abrupt, ambiguous, and/or perplexing so it’s hard to see what the point of the story is. It’s frustrating, even as light adventure fare (which after all is what Star Trek is). All the pieces are intriguing enough that if Byrne keeps writing ’em and IDW keeps printing ’em then I’ll keep publishing ’em, hoping that eventually all the pieces fall into place and he produces a truly great one.