April 2017
S M T W T F S
« Mar    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30  

Archives

  • 2017
  • 2016
  • 2015
  • 2014
  • 2013
  • 2012
  • 2011
  • 2010
  • 2009
  • 2008
  • 2007
  • 2006

Categories

  • Film
  • Journals & Blogs
  • Places
  • Reviews

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

  • Green Lantern Corps #47, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Tom Nguyen, Keith Champagne & Mark Irwin (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #38, by Bill Willingham, Jesus Merino & Jesse Delperdang (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #22, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (DC/Vertigo)
  • Victorian Undead #6 of 6, by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fantastic Four #578, by Jonathan Hickman & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • Invincible #71, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley & Cliff Rathburn (Image)
Green Lantern Corps has gone somewhat astray in the last year. While their involvement in Blackest Night was inevitable and even necessary, it moved the book away from its strength, that being the relationships among the Lanterns (although the events that led to Guy Gardner becoming a Red Lantern for a few issues were the highlight of their involvement).

This issue gets the series back on track, and is one of the best issues since the first year of the series, as the Lanterns mourn their dead, and then get on with their lives, some of them returning to where they were before the war, and others moving in new directions. And several Lanterns, notably Arisia, confront the Guardians over some things they don’t like about how the Corps has been changing, resulting in both Salakk showing that he’s more than the Guardians’ lackey, and the Guardians showing a little emotion for a change.

Hopefully this is the beginning of a return to form, and not being involved in big crossover events for a while. Although with issue #50 coming up, no doubt there’s one more big story on the way.

The “Prime Elements” quasi-arc in Fantastic Four wraps up this week, such as it was. As I’ve said recently, these 4 issues were entirely set-up and basically no resolution, character development, or much of anything else. Frankly, it’s been boring. The final page says that “the war of four cities” is beginning, as the alien Inhumans invade the Negative Zone (the evolved subterraneans and the hidden aquatic races aren’t involved yet). It’s all a little hard to credit, that we haven’t heard of any of these races before, or that there are enough members of them to cause real problems.

Hickman’s run began in a promising manner, but this arc has I think been far too low-key to be successful. He seems to have forgotten that FF is primarily an action comic, and introducing the ideas content in the midst of the action – which is how FF has traditionally worked – doesn’t seem to be his style. But his style doesn’t seem appropriate for the series. Something’s gotta give, and it’s either going to be Hickman finally kicking the series into gear, or me falling asleep and dropping the book.

Victorian Undead was a cute little series, basically a steampunk version of Sherlock Holmes mixed in with the ongoing zombie fad, where Professor Moriarty uses the remnants of a zombie outbreak decades earlier to both save himself from his encounter with Holmes in “The Final Problem”, and stage his conquest of Britain. There was more adventure than detection, and I don’t think Davide Fabbri captured the look of Holmes, Watson, Moriarty or (especially) Mycroft Holmes that well, although his general Victorian look was pretty good.

Compared to the other Ian Edginton series I’ve read, Scarlet Traces (which is awesome), this one has been merely mind candy. It was still pretty tasty, though. Not sure I’d bother with a sequel, however.

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

A huge week this week, the most expensive I can recall in recent memory. (Okay, I bought some Magic cards, too, since my Worldwake booster boxes haven’t arrived yet.) Two hardcovers, two paperbacks, and a goodly set of books.

  • Green Lantern #51, by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke (DC)
  • Green Lantern Corps #45, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Keith Champagne & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • Power Girl #9, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • The Starman Omnibus vol 4 HC, by James Robinson, Jerry Ordway, Tony Harris,Peter Krause, Mike Mignola, Gary Erskine, Matt Smith, Mike Mayhew, Gene Ha, Wade Von Grawbadger, Dick Giordano & others (DC)
  • Fantastic Four: In Search of Galactus HC, by Marv Wolfman, Keith Pollard, John Buyne, Sal Buscema & Joe Sinnott (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #23, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wed Craig & Serge LaPointe (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #141, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
  • Marvels: Eye of the Camera #6 of 6, by Kurt Busiek, Roger Stern & Jay Anacleto (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #3, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
  • Star Trek: Romulans: Pawns of War TPB, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • Invincible #70, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Jack Staff: Rocky Realities vol 4 TPB, by Paul Grist (Image)
  • Atomic Robo: Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #1 of 4, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
After a long delay, the final issue of Marvels: Eye of the Camera is out this week. My adoration of Kurt Busiek‘s writing knows few bounds, but this is not one of his best series. It follows the protagonist of the first series, Daily Bugle photographer Phil Sheldon, after he learns that he has cancer, and his life in the 1970s and 80s as he watches the Marvel universe develop around him. But rather than being an everyman’s chronicle of key points in the development of Marvel’s world, it’s a rather glum, somewhat sentimental portrayal of Phil coming to grips with the end of his life. And where the first Marvels spotlighted some of the truly great moments of early Marvel comics, few of the scenes depicted in Eye of the Camera measure up. This final issue shows a fight between the X-Men and… someone, a story I dimly remember as it was published around the time I decided X-Men had become unreadable and I dropped it, but compared to the Human Torch vs. the Sub-Mariner, or the Fantastic Four vs. Galactus, it’s an almost comically trivial encounter.

The best stuff in the series really does feature Sheldon, particular in this issue when the mutant Maggie, who as a girl hid out in the Sheldons’ baseman, returns to visit Phil on his deathbed, and they reminisce about that, and Phil puts a big chunk of his life into perspective.

But on the other hand, in a world in which characters survive and barely age for decades, it’s especially sad to see a likable, practically heroic, man like Phil die quietly like he does, and be buried in the ground like anyone else while superheroes fly overhead. As a writer himself (Phil is a writer as well as a photographer), and given his medical history over the last decade, I’m sure Busiek is putting some of his own thoughts and feelings down in this story. It’s not that it doesn’t work at all, but despite Phil’s attempts to put a brave face on his last moments and his legacy, it ends up feeling like too little, not rewarding enough for Phil or for us reading about him.

Jay Anacleto is no Alex Ross, and his figures and expressions often feel a little stiff, and too understated. And where Ross brought a surprising degree of verisimilitude to the superhero sequences he painted, Anacleto can’t duplicate the feat here.

Overall I was disappointed in Eye of the Camera, feeling that the sense of wonder that drove the first Marvels series to be mostly missing, and not really being compelled by the personal drama that was driving the story. I imagine people who read character drama-driven independent comics would get more out of the book than I did, but then people who read those comics are not very likely to pick up a Marvel title.

It’s time for another plug of the lovely Starman omnibus hardcovers that DC is publishing. The series was not entirely collected in paperback, and it’s neat to be able to read the whole thing, including a lot of ancillary material, in this oversized package.

The run is reaching the end of its heyday, as Tony Harris didn’t last a lot beyond this point (we’re up to issue #46 with this volume), and Peter Snejbjerg is a decent artist but he doesn’t have anywhere near the range or rendering awesomeness of Harris. This volume collects the crossover with The Power of SHAZAM, which was a lot of fun as an example of how a non-mainstream series can interact with a completely mainstream one, as well as the excellent Starman 80-Page Giant which featured a story with each Starman character up to that point, including the mysterious Starman of 1951. Plus they collect the Batman/Starman/Hellboy mini-series, which I’d completely forgotten about. Finally, they set things up for the next major story arc, in which Jack Knight goes into outer space to find his girlfriend’s missing brother.

I’d thought the omnibus series was intended to be 6 volumes, but with another 34 issues to go, I bet it’ll be 7 or 8 instead, especially if they include – for instance, the first arc of JSA, in which Jack Knight appeared in a supporting role (as James Robinson helped launch that series). Regardless, I’ll be very happy to have this whole set on my shelf.

Another excellent hardcover collection of a great Marvel Comics story from my childhood. Back in the early 1970s, after first Jack Kirby and then Stan Lee had left the Fantastic Four, the book really suffered creatively. In the late 70s, Marv Wolfman took over writing and editing the book and produced a memorable run full of action, adventure, and character drama – really, bringing it back to the roots that Lee and Kirby had brought up. This era is largely forgotten for two reasons: First, because John Byrne’s later run – actually only about a year and a half later – has been so acclaimed that it’s utterly eclipsed Wolfman’s run. Second, because Wolfman’s run was awkwardly aborted; I’m not sure why, but I suspect it had to do with personality clashes when Jim Shooter became editor-in-chief of Marvel (both Wolfman and longtime Marvel veteran Roy Thomas jumped to DC around that time). Wolfman had spent his two years on the title setting up some long-term plot threads, the most major of which was somewhat abruptly wrapped up after Wolfman left, and another of which – really just a moment of foreshadowing – was dealt with two years later by Byrne. It’s too bad, because I’d have liked to see Wolfman have the chance to build a legacy on the FF similar to that of Lee and Kirby. On the other hand, his departure not only opened the door for Byrne’s run (which is quite good), but also meant Wolfman could write The New Teen Titans, which is, frankly, even better.

This collection is a terrific outer-space odyssey in which Xandar – home of the Nova Corps – recruits the FF to help defend them against a Skrull armada. The FF are captured and sentenced to death – via a ray which will cause them to age to that point in just 3 days. Meanwhile, one of Xandar’s allies, the Sphinx, unlocks the power of his mystical gemstone and goes insane, displaying a cosmic level of power, and returning to Earth planning to reshape his homeworld. The FF are forced into a faustian bargain with Galactus to have the world-eater stop the Sphinx, after which all they have to do is find a way to stop Galactus and save themselves from the ravages of accelerated time.

Wolfman tells as good an adventure story as you’d have found in comics of the day, certainly the equal of what Chris Claremont and Byrne were doing on X-Men, and with art by Byrne, Keith Pollard, and longtime FF inker Joe Sinnott. If you’re a fan of any era of the FF, check this one out, because it’s really good. The current series by Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham doesn’t really compare, even though it’s not bad by any means.

John Byrne’s Romulans comics get collected this month. His Star Trek comics for IDW (other than Assignment: Earth) are in my mind the best Trek comics I’ve seen since Mike W. Barr and Tom Sutton’s run for DC: He’s got the classic Trek look down, and he’s playing around in the backwaters of the universe while still telling recognizably Trek stories.

This collection is an arc which comes out of the classic episode Balance of Terror (one chapter of the book tells that story from the point of view of the Romulan commander, memorably played by Mark Lenard), and involves the Klingon/Romulan alliance, heavily based around the Klingons trying to manipulate the Romulans to get around the Organian peace treaty. It’s a pretty good story overall, although it has a disappointing ending (the Organians show up and, well, that’s it for the conflict), and when most of the major characters are anti-heroes or villains, well, it’s hard to root for anyone. Still, good stuff. I hope Byrne has more Star Trek stories in the pipeline, because I’d read ’em.

This Week's Haul

  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Four #1, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Batman and Robin #7, by Grant Morrison & Cameron Stewart (DC)
  • Green Lantern #50, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Rebecca Buchman, Tom Nguyen & Mark Irwin (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #35, by Bill Willingham, Travis Moore & Dan Green (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #19, by Matt Wagner, Joëlle Jones & David Hahn (DC/Vertigo)
  • Victorian Undead #3 of 6, by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fantastic Four #575, by Jonathan Hickman & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #22, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker & Andrew Hennessy (Marvel)
  • Echo #19, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Irredeemable #10, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #4 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Chew #8, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
Batman and Robin #7 is the perfect example of the “average” Grant Morrison book:

  1. The story starts with the current Batman (Dick Grayson) carrying the body of the previous Batman (Bruce Wayne – or as far as everyone in the DC Universe knows it’s his body) out of its crypt. This page is a piece of the setup, but it then transitions to a seemingly-completely-unconnected scene in London, a gimmick Morrison often employs make his plots more cagey.
  2. Obscure guest stars, in this case Knight and Squire, the equivalent of Batman and Robin of England. (Morrison created the current versions of these characters, but their antecedents are from the Silver Age, and John Byrne also used them in his series Generations III.) Knight visually resembles another Morrison creation, Prometheus.
  3. The first two episodes of the story are essentially a blind for Batman’s real goal, which is the revive his predecessor with the help of a Lazarus Pit. This unfortunately tends to make many of Morrison’s stories hard to follow, especially as in this case, where it seems like Batman was well aware of where the pit was (the body preceded him there, after all), and Batwoman turns up for some reason, but the chain of events doesn’t really make much sense.
  4. The characterizations don’t quite ring true: Dick’s speech near the end about his drive to bring Bruce back belies both the rocky relationship between the two men as adults. Dick’s defeated tone of voice – even though he really had nothing to do with Bruce’s death – also feels out of character.

The story overall is intriguing despite its flaws, and Cameron Stewart draws the hell out of it, easily the best artwork the series has yet seen. The issue did have an unfortunate in word balloon placement flaw in one panel, and you might find a glossary of British terminology in the issue helpful, but neither is a detriment to the book.

What’s less encouraging is how the faux body of Batman is being handled, since we know from the end of Final Crisis that Bruce Wayne is still alive, apparently on a parallel world, but Dick says here that Superman confirmed that the body has Bruce’s DNA. Superman is by definition a reliable source in situations like this, so it has to be Bruce. Which severely limits how Morrison can explain that it’s not really Bruce: A clone would be so cliché that it would render the whole thing pointless. Bruce could have traded places with his double from the other Earth (which would be a bit draconian). But any solution which ends up with Superman being wrong or having been tricked means the whole thing fails. (This was a flaw in Mark Waid’s otherwise excellent The Return of Barry Allen, where Green Lantern’s ring verifies that Barry is really Barry, and that undercuts the whole story; this is a problem with having godlike characters running around your universe.) I’m curious to see whether Morrison can make it work.

Fantastic Four hits a mini-milestone this month, issue #575, but I thought the issue was a disappointment. It involves the FF going deep into the Earth to help the Mole Man with a problem he’s having, and they’re not able to help very much, but a highly-advanced underground city is raised to the surface within US territory, presumably to set up future storylines. There are some great visuals by Dale Eaglesham, but at the end my reaction was, “Wait, that’s it?” Something about this issue was just ill-conceived: Not a lot much action and not much of a climax, nor was it very thought-provoking. If it doesn’t end up setting up something big down the road, then I’ll wonder why they bothered with this issue at all.
The second series of The Unknown ends this week, and it’s been quite a bit better than the first series, which ended rather ambiguously and without a lot of satisfaction for the characters or the readers. It turns out that there were several things happening in the first series which were just not clear at the time, and writer Mark Waid reveals a lot of what was going on here: What Catherine Allingham was really after, and a the surprising nature of her former partner, Doyle.

At first, The Unknown seemed like it was going to be a Sherlock Holmes-like series (something Waid has done before in a more traditional manner with Ruse) with supernatural overtones, but in fact it’s turning out to be a fantasy/suspense/horror series which happens to have a detective as its protagonist, in particular, a detective interested in learning the truth about the afterlife because she’s under a death sentence herself.

Yet so much of the series’ status quo has been overturned in this second series that I wonder if Waid is going to send it off somewhere else again in the next series. I could easily see him wrapping up the whole story in one more series if that’s what he has in mind, or peeling back more layers from the onion. I could be happy with it either way, though I think making it a longer, more complex series will make it more likely that it will be a great story rather than an interesting diversion. Especially if he expands on the characters more, as they’re fairly one-dimensional so far.

The biggest surprise in independent comics last year was the series Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory. I missed the boat on it, and picked up the first collection and the next two issues to catch up, so now I’m up-to-date.

The premise is that in the near future avian flu has caused the US and several other nations to outlaw poultry from the market, and the F.D.A. is charged with investigating poultry and food-related crimes. Tony Chu was a cop who has the ability – more of a curse, really – to be able to read the history of anything he tastes. Very useful, but also rather disgusting when what you need to get information about is a rancid corpse. Tony is recruited to work for the FDA, his boss hates him, and his partner has an agenda at odds with Tony’s sense of right and wrong.

The stories are mildly disgusting (and often quite violent), but rather witty. The art is cartoony and expressive, not entirely my kind of thing, but it fits the story well. Overall it’s a very offbeat package, a little bit fantasy, a little bit crime drama. Some people love Chew to bits, while I think it’s entertaining enough but I don’t want to read it while I’m eating dinner. But if quirk is something you appreciate in a comic book, then it might well be for you.

This Week's Haul

  • Green Lantern #49, by Geoff Johns, Ed Benes, Marcos Marz & Luciana Del Negro, and Jerry Ordway (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #34, by Bill Willingham, Travis Moore & Dan Green (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #18, by Matt Wagner & Amy Reeder Hadley (DC/Vertigo)
  • Victorian Undead #2, by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Criminal: The Sinners #3, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Fantastic Four: The Master of Doom TPB, by Mark Millar, Joe Ahearne, Bryan Hitch, Neil Edwards, Stuart Immonen & others (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #574, by Jonathan Hickman, Neil Edwards & Andrew Currie (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #21, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy & Victor Olazaba (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #139, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Rodney Buchemi & Reilly Brown (Marvel)
  • Marvel Masterworks: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. vol 129 HC, collecting Strange Tales vol 1 #154-168, and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. vol 1 #1-3, by Jim Steranko, Roy Thomas, Frank Giacoia & Joe Sinnott (Marvel)
  • Powers #2, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • Absolution #5 of 6, by Christos Gage & Roberto Viacava (Avatar)
  • Irredeemable #9, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • Hellboy: The Bride of Hell, by Mike Mignola & Richard Corben (Dark Horse)
  • Invincible #69, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Fantastic Four: The Master of Doom Why do I keep reading Mark Millar’s comics? Hell if I know. I guess he’s just enough of an ideasmith that I’m hopeful he’ll provide some entertaining stories a la Grant Morrison, so I keep giving him another try, yet I keep being disappointed. The saying goes that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, so what does this say about me?

In the new Fantastic Four collection The Master of Doom, the second half of his run on the title with Bryan Hitch, Millar demonstrates how to write a really bad bunch of FF stories. The run produced lower sales numbers than you might expect from a run by a pair of supposed super-star creators, but frankly the quality just wasn’t there. Oh, Hitch’s art was nice enough, although stylistically he hasn’t really developed much since his days on The Authority: Toothy grins, near-photo-realistic renderings, rather blah layouts. But the writing is really awful.

The first chapter is an epilogue to the previous collection, featuring the funeral of the Invisible Woman (sorta), the Thing getting engaged to his latest girlfriend – an ordinary schoolteacher, and Doctor Doom threatening that the man who taught him all he knows about villainy is coming to Earth. All well and good, but then it goes off the rails. (Well, the revelation that Reed and Sue’s 2-year-old daughter Valeria is smart enough to be creating tesseract vehicles inspired by Doctor Who isn’t exactly welcome. Writers have enough trouble figuring out how to thread the needle with Reed’s brilliance, let along adding another impossible-level genius into the mix, but fortunately Valeria’s brain isn’t a big factor in the story.)

The next chapter starts with the Human Torch having brought a couple of, well, prostitutes or strippers or just plain sluts, back to his apartment when he’s interrupted. Oh yeah, the two women are dressed as Storm and the Scarlet Witch. Johnny may not be the most admirable member of the team, but this is a new low, and a clear indication that Millar just doesn’t understand the characters. This is followed by further foreshadowing of the arrival of Doom’s master, and then we get a 2-part Christmas story where the team goes to Scotland to visit a cousin of Reed’s. Valeria ends up being the intended sacrifice to a creature that’s been haunting the town for a long time. This is classic Millar: A bunch of superpowered characters hitting things, but no real consideration for the larger issues that he introduces, such as what the creature’s actually been doing for the whole time, even if the price it exacts is disgusting.

Then we launch into the main story, about Doom’s master and the new apprentice arriving on Earth, being not at all pleased with Doom’s lack of progress in villainy, and disposing of the bad Doctor before turning to take down the Fantastic Four. The build-up to the master’s arrival involved him destroying whole parallel worlds, including killing one world’s Watcher, and there’s plenty of potential here: What sort of being would be so vile that he’d have been Doom’s teacher? Exactly when did Doom manage to hook up with an entity of such power, and why did he leave him? Why have they been out of touch for so many years? Heck, why did the master – with the rather generic name the Marquis of Death – leave Earth at all, given his predilection for destroying it?

But Millar finesses all of this by making the Maquis a minor character with no real personality and just the barest of backgrounds, and the new apprentice a means to advance Doom’s character in a rather pointless manner, inasmuch as it’s just a set-up for further stories which Millar won’t be around to tell. And then, our FF manages to take down the pair through some trickery which somehow none of their parallel-world counterparts were able to envision. It doesn’t ring true. And none of the potential of the set-up is realized. It’s just a big slugfest. Zzzz.

Millar wraps up the story with an utter cop-out of a resolution to the Thing’s engagement, which after Ben’s past relationships just seems completely unlike the character for him to handle things this way. Millar twists the characters to fit the story, and so the story just doesn’t work at all.

Millar is one of the hottest writers in comics, and I just don’t get it: His writing is mean-spirited, poorly plotted, weakly characterized, goes for the cheap thrills and doesn’t realize the potential it does have. The Master of Doom illustrates all of this perfectly. Maybe the fact that it didn’t sell very well shows that readers are starting to realize this. I’d had hopes that, reined in by working on a major mainstream property, Millar’s Fantastic Four would be inventive and readable, more like what we see from Grant Morrison (when Morrison hasn’t himself gone astray), but this is just more of the same from Millar. This should probably be the last thing I read by him.

Marvel Masterworks: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. vol 2 Jim Steranko’s work on Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. is legendary in the comics field, and it’s collected in hardcover this month in the latest Marvel Masterworks volume. (The pre-Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. stories were collected a few years ago.) If you haven’t read them before, this is an outstanding package to read them in.

Steranko, like so many of the prime innovators in sequential art, was before my time, and so coming to his work decades after it first appeared. It’s awkward, since Steranko’s Fury stories feel culturally dated, in part because he was consciously trying to make Fury and his friends feel like cutting-edge inhabitants of the real world, and the go-go world of the 1960s seems downright silly to most people who grew up after it (this is probably why today’s conservatives have so much fun pillorying the Flower Power generation). And besides that, so many of Steranko’s innovations in the field have been assimilated, reproduced, subverted and parodied in the years since, that they just don’t seem very, well, innovative. Plus, Steranko’s layouts and renderings have so much of Kirby in them, but without the sophisticated linework of a Pérez or a Byrne, that they seem dated in and of themselves.

Yet Steranko’s work collected here does look different from his predecessors, contemporaries, and successors: The sense of place he provides in Nick’s apartment, the fantastic devices – less contrived than Kirby’s – that S.H.I.E.L.D. works with, the cinematic sense of pacing (which works sometimes yet fails badly at others, but then Steranko was always trying something new), and his gradual breaking free from the often mundane page layouts of the day (Marvel was ahead of DC in this regard, yet the page layouts of the late 60s, even by Kirby or John Buscema, seem downright staid).

Despite being a bit of a mixed bag for the modern reader, Steranko’s S.H.I.E.L.D. still has a lot to offer, both its historical context, and some rock-em sock-em adventure. The premise of the book is simple: Nick Fury and his international spy organization fighting against Hydra, the Yellow Claw, and a mystery man named Scorpio, in comics’ best-known contribution to the 1960s spy craze. Plus the volume contains a fascinating introductory essay by Steranko regarding the approach he took to writing and drawing the book. If you’ve read any of Fury’s adventures over the last 30 years, well, even at his best they paled in comparison to Steranko’s stories here.

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

  • Countdown to Final Crisis #25 of 52 (backwards) by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, Ron Lim, Jimmy Palmiotti & John Stanisci (DC)
  • Metal Men #4 of 8, by Duncan Rouleau (DC)
  • Annihilation Conquest: Starlord #4 of 4, by Keith Giffen, Timothy Green II & Victor Olazaba (Marvel)
  • Annihilation: Conquest #1 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Tom Raney & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #551, by Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Hellboy: Darkness Calls #6 of 6, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Jason Armstrong (Dark Horse)
  • The Perhapanauts: Second Chances TPB vol 2, by Todd Dezago & Craig Rousseau (Dark Horse)
  • Boneyard TPB vol 6, by Richard Moore (NBM)
Countdown to Final Crisis #25 Countdown to Final Crisis this week features the pencils of Ron Lim. I remember when Lim fist turned up 20 years ago pencilling the sorta-kinda-parody comic Ex-Mutants. Since then he’s had a long career with an art style reminiscent of George Pérez and Dan Jurgens, although without either of their senses of form or attention to detail. I guess he’s been kicking around for a while drawing books I don’t read, but it’s interesting that he’s one of the guys DC’s hauling in to contribute to Countdown, since I wouldn’t call him an A-list artist. His artwork here is serviceable, but it felt like a rush job.
  Annihilation: Conquest picks up where the three mini-series (plus the Nova tie-in) ended. Quasar and Adam Warlock are obviously going to be the protagonists here, with Starlord, the Super-Skrull, Wraith and Ronan in supporting roles. I think it’ll be fun, and Tom Raney’s artwork is pretty good. The reveal of the villain at the end is a bit of a letdown – few characters have been quite as overused in a cliché manner as this one – but you can’t have everything.

Of the mini-series, the Quasar and Wraith ones were the best. Starlord was pretty good – with very good artwork – but didn’t really go anywhere. The Nova tie-in was entirely superfluous, as I mentioned a few weeks ago.

I’ve been reading the original Annihilation series as the trade paperbacks come out, and it’s much better than Conquest. But they’re certainly trying really hard in this follow-up.

Fantastic Four #551 I’m a sucker for this sort of thing: Fantastic Four is kicking off a new story titled “Epilogue”, whose first chapter is “The Beginning of the End”, in which Doctor Doom and two other characters come back from 75 years in the future to warn the FF that Reed is about to make an error which is going to have grave consequences for the future. It ends with a sudden shock and a cliffhanger. It also fortunately completely ignores the after-effects of the Civil War, thank goodness, although I suppose the story might be intended to explain some things about the Civil War. I dunno – I’m just as happy to forget all about it.

I’m not at all familiar with Dwayne McDuffie’s work, but this is a promising start, with a neat revelation about how Reed works when he’s on his own. Paul Pelletier’s pencils reminds me a little of Paul Ryan, although his approach to faces is weirdly fluid and results in some odd, unsettling effects (Sue often looks like she’s had some unfortunate plastic surgery).

It seems like the problem with the FF these days is that they’re not treated as much of a family, and that Reed always seems to be very distant and too analytical, which not only is No Fun but undercuts the theme of the series: Four adventurers against all the evil in the world. Reed still comes across as too analytical here, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Perhapanauts vol 2: Second Chances The second volume of Perhapanauts picks up where the first one left off, and it’s more of the same. There’s a nifty time travel angle in the first story, and a different (but more mundane) time travel angle in the second story, which has a bittersweet ending. There are some loose ends, which is frustrating, although not as much so in the first volume. While the book is rather fun, it feels too light for me to commit to following it when it kicks off a regular series sometime next year. I just don’t feel hooked by the characters or the scenario, a problem I also had with Noble Causes a while back, which is a book with a similar feel and which has received similar acclaim. Maybe just chalk it up to “not my cup of tea”.

This Week’s Haul

Actually, two weeks’ worth, since I was away last week:

The Team-Ups volume are really for hard-core Justice Society fans only, really. That said, one of the Atom stories herein is a longtime favorite of mine: Ray Palmer starts aging backwards and Al Pratt has to save him. As Gardner Fox gimmick stories go, it’s pretty good. It’s also interesting that many of these stories are treated as just one more adventure for our heroes, and not the “event” comics that JLA/JSA team-ups would later become.

Wonder Woman #4 ended with a cliffhanger, leading into the final part of the “Who Is Wonder Woman?” story. But #5 doesn’t complete the story, it was released with different content than originally solicited, and the conclusion will appear “at some later date”. The story that actually shipped is a pretty mediocre piece about the impact Wonder Woman has on the world around her, beyond her material deeds. It basically explores in depth what Kurt Busiek simply implies with his Winged Victory character in Astro City, but doesn’t really say anything more. So, shrug.

Fantastic Four: The End concludes the ho-hum series by writer/artist Alan Davis. He sort-of brings a science fictional sensibility to the FF in the future, but it’s really just a standard superhero yarn.

Athena Voltaire #2 actually shipped some time ago, but my shop didn’t get a copy for some reason. So they ordered me one and it arrived this week. Now I can catch up…

Captain Clockwork is a little black-and-white book by Glenn Whitmore about four generations of heroes named Captain Clockwork, who work to save chronology from the 1930 to the 2010s. Whitmore’s plotting and dialog is a little shaky, but his art – though not very detailed – is clean and polished. There’s some promise here, but I don’t think I’m up for “yet another superhero book”. Future installments will need to indicate that they’re going somewhere for me to keep buying. (The web site has a preview from this issue.)

In many ways I enjoy B.P.R.D., but the story has been going on for an awful long time, and with no end in sight. I’d like them to wrap up Abe Sapien’s background and deal with… heck, I can’t even remember exactly what the ongoing threat they’re dealing with is. Or else I’m getting close to losing interest.

Boneyard wraps up their current story with an adorable ending. What a great comic book series.

Evil Inc. is a graphic novel assembled from the first year of the popular webcomic about a corporation run by supervillains. It’s entertaining, maybe even better read in collected form than serially, although I kind of wish it were a more straightforward collection. Apparently there’s already a second volume, but I don’t think it’s yet been solicited through Diamond Comics’ Previews catalog.

This Week’s Haul

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #47 (DC)
  • Fables #56 (DC/Vertigo)
  • 52 #33 of 52 (DC)
  • Red Menace #2 of 6 (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes TPB vol 3: Strange Visitor From Another Century (DC)
  • Fantastic Four #541 (Marvel)
  • Ms. Marvel #10 (Marvel)
  • Athena Voltaire: The Collected WebComics (Ape Entertainment)

Writer Kurt Busiek and artist Butch Guice will be leaving Aquaman after #49, replaced by fantasy writer Tad Williams and artist Shawn McManus. This probably means that Busiek’s ongoing mysteries will either not be revealed, or will be revealed abruptly and rather lamely, which is a pity, since this storyline has really been all about the payoff. That said, I’ve been a fan of McManus’ art since his terrific work on Todd Klein’s Omega Men about 20 years ago, so his presence here may keep me reading the title after Busiek leaves.

Fables is a nifty little Christmas story. Willingham always seems to have a surprise up his sleeve. How does he do it?

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes is the third collection in Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s reboot of the Legion title (you can also buy volumes one and two). The conceit in this volume is that Supergirl has somehow ended up in the 31st century, but has no memory of how she got there, and also believes that she’s dreaming it all. This makes her a little reckless, but she’s also powerful enough that it doesn’t really matter, although it does really annoy Light Lass. This is an enjoyable series with pretty good characterization, although the roster is so big that some characters get lost in the shuffle. Plus I really hate Supergirl’s bare-midriff costume, but that’s not Waid and Kitson’s fault, as it was foisted on them when the character was most recently relaunched.

I’m an old-old school Legion fan, and feel it went steadily downhill following the long-ago Ultra Boy/Reflecto story from the late 70s. And especially since Crisis on Infinite Earths it hasn’t had that special feeling that the original Legion had. But – much like Aquaman – DC keeps trying and many of their tries are worth reading, for a while, anyway. This is one of them. My biggest criticism is that I still find Kitson’s characters’ poses and expressions to be rather stiff.

Fantastic Four #541 is J. Michael Straczynski’s last as writer. It hasn’t been a distinguished run, but then he did have the handicap of having to write around the Civil War debacle. Straczynski’s basic problem in his Marvel work has been that he focuses so much on character that there’s not a whole lot of story, and it gets pretty boring. (His Squadron Supreme series is about two years old now and very little has happened.) Anyway, he finishes his run with a standalone story about the Thing leaving the US to avoid taking sides in the Civil War, and he ends up joining a French superhero team. It’s funny, which is a suitable departure for JMS, who seemed happiest on this title when he was writing about Ben Grimm.

I haven’t yet read the Athena Voltaire collection, but will probably get to it before Christmas.