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This Week's Haul

Quite a large week this week – with no collections! And I think every Image comic I buy came out this week. Weird.

  • American Vampire #10, by Scott Snyder & Mateus Sontolouco (DC/Vertigo)
  • DC Universe: Legacies #8 of 10, by Len Wein, Scott Kolins, Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway & Frank Quitely (DC)
  • Green Lantern Corps #55, by Tony Bedard, Tyler Kirkham & Batt (DC)
  • Green Lantern: Larfleeze Christmas Special #1, by Geoff Johns & Brett Booth (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #8, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Daniel HDR, Wayne Faucher & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Power Girl #19, by Judd Winick & Sami Basri (DC)
  • Zatanna #8, by Paul Dini & Cliff Chiang (DC)
  • Fantastic Four #586, by Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Incognito: Bad Influences #2 of 6, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Incorruptible #13, by Mark Waid & Marcio Takara (Boom)
  • Chew #16, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
  • Dynamo 5 Holiday Special 2010 #1, by Jay Faerber & Marcio Takara (Image)
  • Invincible #76, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley & Cliff Rathburn (Image)
  • Morning Glories #5, by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma (Image)
  • The Sixth Gun #7, by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni)
I can’t believe it took me this long to realize that DC Universe: Legacies is structurally the same as the 1999 mini-series Superman and Batman: World’s Finest. In fact, this issue walks the same ground as issue #9 of that series, the replacement Superman and Batman from the mid-1990s (plus the Green Lantern/Parallax development). I’ve always had a soft spot for the World Series series, which had an understated story exploring the development of Superman and Batman’s friendship (which started off strained) and some surprisingly good artwork from artists I was not generally familiar with.

Despite having higher-profile artists, including some of my favorites, Legacies is not as good a series. The framing story of a Metropolis policeman watching the DC Universe develop from the late 1930s to today is pretty generic and progressing slowly, and not as strong as the (still fairly loose) background story in World’s Finest. Plus, another survey of DC’s history doesn’t really seem necessary; I’d been hoping this series would be more than that.

With 2 issues left, there’s time for writer Len Wein to pull a rabbit out of his hat and make this series something surprising. But after 8 issues, it looks like what we see is what we get. It’s okay, but nothing special.

Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four is on the cusp of its first big development, the death of one of the team members. While I’ve felt the series has been rather slow and even dull so far, his manipulation of the build-up to “Three” has been pretty good, putting the heroes into perilous situations where any of the might die: The Thing has reverted to human form for a month, just as some minions of Annihilus attack the Baxter Building, which he, the Human Torch and the kids must defend. Mister Fantastic has gone into space with Galactus to find the corpse of the world-devourer’s future self, and Reed is trying to evacuate the remaining inhabitants of an artificial world before Galactus destroys it. (This is a pretty clever extension of a story laid down by Mark Millar in his run on the book.) And the Invisible Woman is trying to stave off a war between the Sub-Mariner and his kingdom and the more-sinister-than-they-appear (according to Namor) prehistoric Atlanteans who have recently reappeared.

While I’ve been skeptical of Hickman as a master-planner so far (his S.H.I.E.L.D. series has been pretty unconvincing as a millennia-long-global-conspiracy yarn), how he’s assembled the pieces here is actually pretty impressive now that I see it. This is hardly the first time one of the FF has died (or at least been pronounced dead) – it feels almost as old hat as the team breaking up – but it’s how the ramifications of the death are handled which will make or break the event.

And of course Steve Epting’s art is always a joy to see. He’s got everything Brian Hitch brings to the table, but with superior layouts faces that seem more realistic. How this guy isn’t a superstar by now, I don’t know.

Since I last checked in with Dynamo 5 in my blog, there’s been a mini-series (Sins of the Father) and now this holiday special. The characters have recently had their powers switched around among them, a gimmick I’m not really a fan of: It always seems to suggest that the writer either has run out of ideas for the original set-up, or he decided that the original arrangement was the wrong one, and in this case I think the new arrangement is a definitely downgrade to the original. That aside, the story in Sins was pretty solid, leading up to a big cathartic moment for Smasher, the team’s strong-man, who in everyday life is a wimpy kid.

This one-shot involves the team trying to track down an escaped super-villain, who seems to have attacked two teenage girls. Not all it what it seems, of course, but unfortunately the heartwarming holiday payoff isn’t really plausible or satisfying. Moreover, I’m not real big on artist Marcia Takara (who also draws Incorruptible for Boom, where I’m also not a fan of his), as I find his sketchy finishes, simple layouts, and minimal backgrounds really make the book not very attractive.

I’d say to give this one a miss, except that it wraps up with five short epilogues portending future story directions, and they’re pretty good. But then, I expect what we learn here will be recapitulated when the plot points come to fruition. So yeah, the holiday special isn’t required reading unless you’re already on-board the Dynamo 5 train. If you’re not, either wait for the next mini-series, or pick up Sins when it arrives in trade paperback.

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 & JĂșlio 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

Wow, a tiny week this week:

  • Blackest Night #4, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Oclair Albert, Vicente Cifuentes & David Beaty (DC)
  • DC Universe: Legacies #2 of 10, by Len Wein, Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert, Scott Kolins & J.H. Williams (DC)
  • Fables #96, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • The Boys #43, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
That cover to Brightest Day #4 has nothing at all to do with the contents of the issue. Okay, the two men who are the parts of Firestorm do show up, but the hero himself doesn’t, never mind as the “Black Lantern” version. What in the world is DC thinking? Do they have such little faith in the story that they can’t be bothered to come up with a cover that matches it?

To be sure, there’s very little story here, which is pretty much what happens when you only devote a few pages to each of a dozen or so characters. Hawkman and Hawkgirl are still following their stolen bodies from past lives, and have finally ended up in some alternate dimension. Something’s still up with Firestorm. Hawk has demanded that Deadman use the white power ring to try to bring his brother (the first Dove) back to life. Corpses show up in the Bermuda Triangle, and Mera seems to still be under the spell of the red power ring.

Brightest Day has been a total snooze-fest so far.

The second issue of DC Universe: Legacies reverses the pattern of the first one: The backup story, about the Seven Soldiers of Victory, is a total throwaway, unlike the interesting take on the Spectre and Doctor Fate in the back of the first issue. But the main story here is better than in the first issue, as it follows the main character through to the early 50s and the disbanding of the Justice Society, and the downfall of his friend who decided to go the criminal route. The story overall is not terribly strong, as the inspiration of the heroes on our protagonist is strong but simplistic, and I wonder how writer Len Wein can draw out this influence for the remaining 10 issues. I also wonder how he’ll cover the 50s through the 80s in this volume, as thanks to the march of time that’s a period when most of DC’s big-name heroes weren’t active (Superman, after all, would have only started his career in the mid/late 90s). Marvel had a whole series about this “missing era” in its history (Marvel: The Lost Generation, worth seeking out), but DC has mostly glossed over it. It’ll be hard for Wein to do the same here.

The big questions, though, are: Will this be more than a recapitulation of DC universe history, and what exactly are the “legacies” going to be? Or is the title going to end up not really being relevant to the story?

My enthusiasm for Fables has flagged a bit since the first story wrapped up in issue #75, but I think a lot of that is because the two main characters of that arc (Bigby Wolf and Boy Blue) have stepped off the stage, and no one’s really come in to replace them. There are many interesting plot elements, but the characters aren’t keeping me engaged.

Presently the series is doing a piece about Rose Red, the sister of Snow White, illuminating their childhood and how they ended up as such different people. While Rose Red is anything but a sympathetic character (she’s a schemer and a whiner, frankly), this run is otherwise one of the better stories of the last couple of years, as writer Bill Willingham gets to tell his reinterpretation of classic fairy tales, where he always takes their darker nature to heart. Here he presents Snow White’s famous tale (hinted at in the graphic novel 1001 Nights of Snowfall), and how and way it came to pass. And it’ll clearly be a big part of why Rose Red turned out the way she did. Fun stuff.

I do hope that the story gets back to the larger arc of the Dark Man who destroyed Fabletown, and presents some more heroic figures we can get behind in the fight against him, though.

This Week's Haul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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