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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.

This Week's Haul

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

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

And with that, on to the regular stuff:

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


(click for larger image)

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



(again, click for larger images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week's Haul

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least they’re honest in the opening credits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week's Haul

I decided to drop The Incredible Hercules this week. At first it seemed like an entertaining buddy comic (albeit with decidedly unusual buddies), but it went badly wrong somewhere, too subservient to cheesy (but not actually funny) humor and pludding through its dreadfully tedious “New Olympus” storyline. The series seems to be coming to a close with a Hercules: Fall of an Avenger 2-parter, and I thumbed through it and thought the artwork was just dreadful, so that was the last nail in the coffin. (Chris Sims loves this series, but he loves a lot of stuff that doesn’t work for me. Oh, well; diff’rent strokes and all that.)

Fortunately we can still go back and enjoy Bob Layton’s two great mini series from the 80s.

  • American Vampire #1, by Scott Snyder, Stephen King & Rafael Albuquerque (DC/Vertigo)
  • The Brave and the Bold #32, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Booster Gold #30, by Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund & Jerry Ordway (DC)
  • Fables #93, by Bill Willingham & David Lapham (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #46, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Keith Champagne & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #24, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wes Craig & Serge LaPointe (Marvel)
  • Nova #35, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Mahmud A. Asrar & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Echo #20, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Chip #1 of 2, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Research vol 2 HC, by Tom Siddell (Archaia)
  • Irredeemable #12, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • Ghost Projekt #1 of 5, by Joe Harris & Steve Rolston (Oni)
With dropping Hercules this week, I decided to try something new, the new Vertigo series American Vampire, especially since my local store ordered dozens of them. While the series was created by Scott Snyder (whose work I don’t think I’ve read before), presumably the hoopla is because the second story is written by Stephen King. The whole package is illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque, who I’m also not familiar with.

The double-sized first issue is… merely okay. The first story features Pearl, a young woman in 1925 Hollywood working multiple jobs trying for a big break, and who gets invited to a party thrown by a famous movie producer, featuring a cliffhanger ending. The second story the arrest and transportation by rail of Skinner Sweet, a notorious robber in the old west of 1880 who stages a daring escape but ends up taking on more than he’d bargained for. From what I’ve read, both of these characters will be the vampires of the series, following their escapades throughout the landscape of 20th century America as figures grounded in their particular eras.

The stories are decent but not especially impressive, and Albuquerque’s art is pretty good although he makes extensive use of heavy lines in the inking, with a style apparently influenced by Howard Chaykin, making everything look a little too staged and not quite dynamic enough.

Overall it’s a decent package as a fairly typical vampire yarn – which seems like exactly what it’s trying not to be, unfortunately. Admittedly I am not much of a fan of horror, and have a limited interest in suspense-for-the-sake-of-suspense. (I was disappointed, for example, that Joe Hill’s Locke & Key ended up being more suspense and horror and mystery and discovery.) So arguably I’m just not part of American Vampire‘s target audience. I’ll stick around for a few issues and see if there’s more to it than meets the eye. On the other hand, if vampires and horror are exactly your thing, then this one seems pretty well crafted and worth a look.

I believe this month’s Booster Gold is Dan Jurgen’s swan song on his second turn with the character he broke into DC with. The series’ sales have fallen since Geoff Johns – who launched the current series – left, but really the quality has been about the same all along, although Jurgens is certainly a quirkier writer than Johns. The biggest disappointment is that Jurgens didn’t have a concrete storyline he was working with on his run, so it read like one little adventure (or misadventure) after another, without much tying them together. Fun, but lightweight.

On the other hand, this issue ends with a nice revelation about Booster’s future, not so much dropping hints as to what’s to come as jumping straight to the end to show us that everything will, eventually, turn out all right, even though we have no idea what challenges will have to be surmounted to get there. In its way it’s just as touching as Johns’ last issue when he gave Booster and his sister a happy ending (for the moment).

Keith Giffen is apparently taking over the writing chores, so anything could happen, as Giffen’s books range from outstanding to annoying. I’ll keep reading for a while, but I think the key will be for Giffen to stay true to the character and tone of the series that’s been set; too radical a change would just wreck what’s fun about the book.

I’ve written about the great webcomics Gunnerkrigg Court before (here and here), and I’m sure I will again. After the long delay for the first book, it’s great that Archaia has been able to come out with the second collection a little over a year later. The strip is as good today as when it started – maybe better, since creator Tom Siddell’s art is certainly much better – and he continues to inject a sense of wonder into nearly every story, as well as spooky, mysterious and sometimes outright baffling bits, and a nifty braiding of science and magic. Greg Burgas has a comprehensive review, and he likes it a lot, too.

This volume has several excellent chapters: “Red Returns” features a pair of faeries becoming students at the Court after having transitioned to being human. Antimony and Kat befriend Red and try to cheer her up, but it turns out that faeries’ means of happiness and emotional connection are nothing like what they’re used to. “S1″ features the return of Robot, whom Antimony created in the first chapter of the series to take her second shadow back to Gillitie Wood, and starts to shed some light on the history of the Court which will become part of our heroines’ adventures in later chapters. “Power Station” goes back to the strange girls Zimmy and Gamma – whose nature still isn’t really clear to me – and obliquely looks at Zimmy’s nature some more, through what appears to be a flashforward (or maybe a dream sequence). Even in the bits I don’t really understand, Siddell’s storytelling is still strong and moving, so I’m inclined to think he’s either being obscure for effect, or because the mysteries will be revealed in time.

Highly recommended; Gunnerkrigg Court is one of the best webcomics out there.

What is it about secret Soviet research projects and horror comics? Must be the stark architecture and hard-assed characters who always seem to make it into such stories. And Joe Harris & Steve Rolston use it to good effect in the first issue of their series Ghost Projekt, which I only heard about because of Greg Burgas’ review. But it’s great stuff, off to a rousing start when two criminals break into an old research facility and end up infected with… something. Then a pair of Americans show up to investigate and clean up the site, before a Russian operative arrives to tell them it’s under their jurisdiction.

Even if the story plays out in a predictable manner – the Americans refuse to be told off and investigate on their own, the Russians end up with problems greater than they’d dreamed, and the criminals end up as the spearhead of something really nasty getting out – it could still be a fun series. If there are a few curveballs in there, then it could be downright terrific.

Okay, Ghost Projekt is nominally a suspense/horror comic like American Vampire is, but I liked it much more. Why? Well, the setting is more interesting, and there’s a lot more mystery and intrigue here than in AV. I don’t mind suspense and horror, but I’m not so much into stories whose raison d’etre is suspense and horror. They’re a storytelling mechanism, but not the reason I show up. In fact, Ghost Projekt has more in common with Gunnerkrigg Court with a cat who knowingly follows the characters around, and the air of mystery surrounding fundamentally likable characters. GK is a more playful comic, but Ghost Projekt has that hook of curiosity, too.

In any event, the first issue left me pretty enthusiastic; check it out.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #23, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Ex Machina #42, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Jack of Fables #34, by Bill Willingham Matthew Sturges, Russ Braun & José Marzán Jr. (DC/Vertigo)
  • Far West #1, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • Gigantic #4 of 5, by Rich Remender & Eric Nguyen (Dark Horse)
  • Invincible #62, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
The Brave and the Bold #23 In a way, the best part of The Brave and the Bold is the wonky character team-ups, and matching second-stringer Booster Gold (time-traveling self-promoting superhero) with fifth-stringer Magog (irrelevant Justice Society member based on a villain from an alternate future) is about as wonky as they come. You’d think with Booster Gold creator Dan Jurgens doing the story and art that it would be a nice side-trip from the enjoyable Booster Gold series.

Unfortunately it’s not a Booster Gold story at all: Booster sees Rip Hunter apparently fighting Magog on his way back from another time period, and when Booster goes to see what Magog is up to in the present day, he finds that Magog’s reckless behavior puts innocent people at risk, and he’s disgusted at Magog’s viciousness. But this just tells us what we’ve suspected about Magog all along (although he’s a little nastier here than he is in JSA) and the fact that Booster is the hero who sees is it really just coincidence. There’s a little irony in that Booster used to have a cavalier approach to heroics himself, but he’s grown up now. Magog’s motivations are completely different from Booster’s, though, so the parallel doesn’t really work.

So the story’s thinner than I’d hoped; it would have worked better had it somehow been spun to be a Booster Gold story, not a Magog story. But, wonky team-ups are risky things, since it’s hard to throw two unrelated characters together and make the story work. Jurgens gave it a good try (and his art is as smooth and polished as ever), but I don’t think he pulled it off.

Far West: Bad Mojo #1 My comic shop found me a copy of the first issue of Richard Moore’s Far West to go with the second issue from a couple weeks back. I wasn’t too impressed with Moore’s recent series Fire and Brimstone, but I’ve enjoyed his series Boneyard for several years. (It’s one of the few series Debbi reads, too.)

Far West is somewhere in between: In a mythical Wild West, gunfighters, trains and saloons exist alongside dragons, ogres and spirits. Our heroes are Meg and Phil, a gunfighting half-elf woman and an anthropomorphic bear, who are also the best bounty hunters in the area. In Bad Mojo they’ve pursued their quarries into the Deadlands, where things are decidedly not what they seem.

Far West is predicated on Meg being a tough-as-nails smartass, with Phil playing her straight man as she drags him into situations that are more than he bargained for. It works pretty well, although Phil is definitely the second fiddle to his partner, especially here, in which Phil plays comic relief while Meg’s background is revealed and her personality is tested. The series doesn’t have the variety of character interaction of Boneyard, but it’s also not sheer fluff like Fire and Brimstone. I bet Far West could be a good ongoing series if developed as such, as Moore seems content to do the occasional short piece, like this two-issue series, and that’s fine.

And happily, I understand there will be more Boneyard soon.

This Week’s Haul

  • Action Comics #867, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC)
  • Booster Gold #1,000,000, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #17, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Fernando Pasarin & Prentis Rollins (DC)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #3, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Nova #15, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wallington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Astonishing X-Men #25, by Warren Ellis & Simone Bianchi (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: The Warning #1 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
Booster Gold #1000000 Geoff Johns & Jeff Katz’ run on Booster Gold ends with issue #1,000,000 – an homage of sorts to the DC One Million company event of last decade, much like there was an issue #0 retroactively tying in to the Zero Hour event. Cute, but this sort of in-joke amidst the more serious story has been the series’ stock-in-trade all along. Anyway, the pair put out an even dozen issues of the series, and it’s been consistently smart and enjoyable.

The series’ premise involves Booster Gold being recruited by Rip Hunter (Time Master) to help stop people who are changing history. Rip’s true identity is a mystery, and he’s something of a hard-ass. At first Booster is willing to go along, but then he gets it into his head that he could use his time-travelling devices to save his best friend, Blue Beetle, from having been killed in Countdown to Infinite Crisis. Rip does his level best to prove to Booster that he can’t truly change history, but Booster does anyway, saving Beetle but at the price of Maxwell Lord and his legion of OMACs wiping out most of the heroes on Earth. To stop this, Beetle volunteers to go back to sacrifice himself to put things back the way they should be.

All that being behind us, this issue is the denouement, which nicely wraps up most of the major plot elements, gives Booster a happy ending (hearkening back to his first series, back in the 1980s), and throws in some other neat stuff before spending a page foreshadowing what’s coming up in the next year. Which will be written by someone other than Johns and Katz, but that’s okay.

You don’t need to have read all the backstory to fully enjoy Booster Gold, although it does help. But the central tension between Booster and Rip, and Booster’s friendship with Blue Beetle, works even if you’re largely ignorant of what’s gone before, and this issue is a fine wrap-up to the arc of the past year. (Even if it didn’t address Johanna Carlson’s concerns, I think it’s still a nicely optimistic wrap-up.)

And penciller Dan Jurgens – who co-created Booster Gold when he broke into comics in the 80s – deserves a lot of credit for the run, too. I’ve never been Jurgens’ biggest fan – his art is a little too posed and polished for my tastes – but he’s always been a decent creator, and I think he’s done some of his best work ever on this run, and frankly the story really demanded a clean line and straightforward layouts because there was always so much going on. It really played to Jurgens’ strengths.

So, good show, guys. Maybe Geoff Johns’ best run since The Flash. Here’s hoping the next year is as good.

Astonishing X-Men #25 I decided to give Astonishing X-Men a try after learning that Warren Ellis is writing it. Ellis is one of those writers who’s full of ideas, but his execution is very hit-or-miss. He’s similar to Grant Morrison in this way, except that Ellis generally has more depth and character to his stories. So he’s written the outstanding Planetary, but also some pretty unreadable stuff from Avatar.

Astonishing X-Men is looking like it’s below the median in his range. It’s got yet another sequence in which the writer sets up the book with his group of X-Men (if this wasn’t a tired gimmick when Morrison did it in New X-Men, it certainly was when Joss Whedon did it at the beginning of this series), the obligatory clever dialogue to set up minor character conflicts (with the obligatory Wolverine snark amidst it all), and then we’re off on our first mission. All rather routine stuff.

Simone Bianchi’s art is pretty good, although it’s not very dynamic and it feels pretty muddy – it looks like it was shot straight from pencils, and that’s a hard look to pull off. (Not everyone can be – or should try to be – Mike Grell or Michael Zulli.)

I’ll check out a few more issues to see if it finds its wings, but the early returns aren’t promising.

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #7, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #7 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Countdown to Mystery #6 of 8, by Matthew Sturges & Stephen Jorge Segova, and Steve Gerber, Justiniano & Walden Wong (DC)
  • Salvation Run #5 of 7, by Matthew Sturges, Joe Bennett & Belardo Brabo (DC)
  • Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #7 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Annihilation Conquest #5 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Tom Raney & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Nova #11, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1946 #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart & Paul Azaceta (Dark Horse)
  • Locke & Key #2 of 6, by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
  • Atomic Robo #6 of 6, by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & Nic Klein (Red 5)
Booster Gold #7 Booster Gold has been pretty well received by the comics blogosphere. Although it’s a continuity-obsessed time travel yarn, it works because of its solid characterization – you know who all the characters are and they all feel distinct – and Dan Jurgens’ always-clean artwork. That said, being a continuity-obsessed time travel yarn does rather drag it down. Currently the story is wrapped up in the events of Infinite Crisis from a couple years ago, specifically the Maxwell Lord/OMAC stuff which I neither know much about, nor care. It’s the sort of book I enjoy as light reading: It doesn’t insult my intelligence, it’s basically fun, and it feels like it’s going somewhere. In a sense it’s like Geoff Johns bucking to become the new Mark Gruenwald.

This may seem like faint praise, but given the legions of crappy books out there, you could do a whole lot worse.

By the way, if you enjoy Booster Gold, I highly recommend you week out Justice League America #72-75, from Jurgens’ run on JLA in the “post-bwah-hah-hah” era. It’s one of the best alternate timeline stories in JLA history.

Salvation Run #5 Speaking of doing worse, Salvation Run has turned over its creative team since the first issue: Bill Willingham left after #2, turning the book over to his Jack of Fables co-writer Matthew Sturges (note: I stopped buying Jack of Fables after a year), and now Sean Chen – the reason I bought the book in the first place – has been replaced by Joe Bennett. Remarkably, the story is still fairly cohesive. Pedestrian, but cohesive. Of all the mini-series which have come out during Countdown to Final Crisis, this one’s probably the least essential.
Nova #11 Speaking of Sean Chen and creative turnover, Chen was the original artist on Nova, which was awesome, but the replacements since he left have been pretty good, too. Now Paul Pelletier takes over as penciller with #11. I was a bit worried about this, since I wasn’t impressed with his work on Fantastic Four, finding it rather under-rendered, and with the impression that he took some shortcuts in drawing the faces and expressions (his Invisible Woman looked downright weird, for instance).

But his art here is better than I’d feared; a little soft in the backgrounds maybe, but the figures are quite good. I suspect inker Rick Magyar has something to do with that, as he tends to bring a good feeling of texture and shading to everyone he inks, but it looks like Pelletier will be okay. Maybe he was just mailing it in on FF.

Meanwhile, the current story is coming to a head, and I suspect that next issue may be the big climax. Stay tuned!

Atomic Robo #6 And as for something that has nothing to do with any of that, Atomic Robo wraps up his first mini-series this month (a second one is being advertised for later this year). Having now read the whole thing, I can definitely say that this falls into the category of “pulp-oriented action-adventure, Hellboy sub-category”, which is to say, if you like Hellboy and B.P.R.D. (or, for that matter, The Perhapanauts), then you’ll like this, as it has a very similar tone and style. Even though Robo is science-based, he’s the same sort of powerful, unique smartass that Hellboy is. I imagine the creators might be a bit tired of being compared to Hellboy, but the similarity is so strong that it’s unavoidable.

This issue does tie the series back to its first issue, so it wasn’t quite a series of vignettes, but it’s not a fully cohesive whole. And it’s clearly a broad instruction to the character, who’s been around for 80 years and thus has a lot of history. Although my feeling is that they could have led with a stronger, more hard-hitting story as the opener, I can live with this.

I do like Scott Wegener’s artwork, though. It reminds me of Mike Mignola, but also of Michael Avon Oeming, yet it seems cleaner and more dynamic and either. If the human characters’ faces were a little more nuanced, then I could really groove on it. (Wegener seems to go for the “a few broad strokes” approach to faces.)

Anyway, I’ll have higher expectations for the sequel, that it will be more than just a pulpish adventure yarn, since as I’ve said recently I’m getting kind of tired of pulpish adventure yarns. Showing how Robo has changed the world – and how the world has changed Robo – ought to be one of the central facets of a series like this. I hope the future holds some character development.

This Week’s Haul

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #55, by Tad Williams & Shawn McManus (DC)
  • Booster Gold #1, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • The Brave and The Bold #6, by Mark Waid, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Countdown #37 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, David Lopez, Mike Norton, Don Hillsman II, & Rod Ramos (DC)
  • Armageddon Conquest: Quasar #2 of 4, by Christos N. Gage, Mike Lilly, Bob Almond & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Invincible: My Favorite Martian TPB vol 8, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Invincible #42-44, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)

Booster Gold #1If you were on board for Keith Giffen’s Justice League series or last year’s 52 series, then you know that Booster Gold is a glory-hound hero who does the right thing while trying to promote his image and get rich. He’s a bit of a comical character, whose history has gotten rather tortured as his powers have changed, his best friend has been killed, and he’s helped save the timestream.

If you’re a True Believer, though, you know that Booster Gold was the first superhero created after the Crisis, way back in 1986. Created by Dan Jurgens, a writer/artist with a clean line who’s probably best-known for killing off Superman, Booster was a frustrated ex-football player from the 25th century who came back to our time to become the hero he always imagined himself. He set himself up in Metropolis and went toe-to-toe with Superman for popularity. It was a nifty premise, and the first Booster series – which ran 25 issues – did a good job of exploring Booster’s past and present (and future). Jurgens’ writing and art always seem just a little stiff to me, but you can’t fault his enthusiasm or cleverness.

It seems that Booster’s popularity has finally reached the point where it’s time for him to get his own series, but how do you relaunch a character who’s, well, done it all? Apparently by having him do it all again: Booster is recruited by Rip Hunter, Time Master to help repair damage in the fabric of time, which someone may be exploiting to destroy the Justice League. He’s finally convinced to side with Hunter rather than joining the JLA himself, but at a price. It’s an interesting premise – one which might wear thin quickly, but which suggests that perhaps there’s a goal at the end of the road, rather than a series of one-off adventures. Which would be nice.

Jurgens returns on art, credited with the “layouts”, which usually means the final art more reflects the style of the guy doing the finishes – by Norm Rapmund in this case – but it looks like Jurgens’ art through-and-through. Geoff Johns co-writes with Jeff Katz, which I suspect means that Katz is doing the bulk of the writing while Johns is present to lend some name recognition to the book. Hard to tell. All things considered, it’s not a bad start.

The Brave and the Bold #6B&B wraps up its first storyline, “The Lords of Luck”, with one final set of guest stars as our heroes take on some bad guys who know every move they have planned – almost. It’s almost anticlimactic after the big Legion issue last month, but this has been a great series. I guess Waid and Pérez have one more storyline planned before Waid heads off to become editor-in-chief of Boom! Studios.

But I think it’s going to be a while before either creator manages to top this one. This has been a great series so far.

Invincible #44Okay, I broke down and decided to add Invincible to my monthly reads. I picked up the latest TPB and the latest three issues, which gets me all up-to-date on the story.

I’m pretty impressed with how Robert Kirkman juggles the large cast, characters who come and go, relationships that shift over the course of a year or two, villains who sometimes get their final rewards and others who keep coming back, he does a good job of keeping you guessing. I think sometimes he’s a little too brutal in handling the characters, and that certain characters get the short end of the stick in their exposure, but nobody’s perfect.

It takes a lot for a serial story which isn’t headed to some sort of definitive conclusion to keep my hooked. I’ve read through four years’ worth of Invincible this year, and it looks like it might be that book.

Oh, and Ryan Ottley‘s art just keeps getting better and better.