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This Week’s Haul

  • Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #2 of 3, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Eddy Barrows, Gene Ha, Tom Mandrake & Ruy José (DC)
  • Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5 of 5, by Geoff Johns, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Green Lantern #44, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Power Girl #3, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Wednesday Comics #3 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #16, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wesley Craig & Nathan Fairbairn (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #131, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Ryan Stegman & Terry Pallot (Marvel)
  • Immortal Weapons #1 of 5, by Jason Aaron, Mico Suadan, Stefano Gaudiano, Roberto de la Torre, Khari Evans, Victor Olazaba, Michael Lark & Arturo Lozzi, and Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman & Stefano Gaudiano (Marvel)
  • Nova #27, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 HC, by David Petersen (Archaia)
  • Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time #3 of 5, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
  • The Life and Times of Savior 28 #4, by J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Cavallaro (IDW)
  • Invincible #64, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Phonogram: The Singles Club #4 of 7, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, David LaFuente & Charity Larrison (Image)
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5 Once again it seems like it’s an all-Geoff-Johns week, with two Green Lantern books and the long-delayed last issue of Legion of 3 Worlds.

At its core, Legion of 3 Worlds is a bunch of what’s today often called “fanboy wankery”: It seems to have been mainly written to reconcile the three incarnations of the Legion of Super-Heroes from the last 30 years, especially to bring the Legion of the early 80s back to being the primary Legion. All of this made for an entertaining romp through Legion history if you’re a Legion fan, but I imagine it’s largely meaningless if you’re not.

Secondarily the story both returned Superboy and Kid Flash to the Teen Titans, both of them having been dead for the last year or two. And lastly it plays out the story of Superboy-Prime, last survivor of Earth-Prime, who’s spent the last couple of years trying to get back to his destroyed homeworld, even if he had to destroy everything else to recreate it.

All of this is wrapped in what is seemingly a Superman story, but by this final issue Superman is pushed pretty firmly to the sidelines, little more than the muscle to hold off Prime until the Legionnaires figure out how to deal with him. The story is one escalating surprise (the Time Trapper is Prime in the future! Unless he’s not!) after another (when in doubt, summon more Legionnaires to do the punching) until things finally get resolved. Chris Sims sums up the irony of the resolution quite well, and honestly it is an entertaining story, with some witty dialogue (especially Brainiac 5’s parting shot), and of course the lovely George Pérez artwork.

I was a little let down by the ending, not so much where Prime ended up, but the fact that the story started out aiming very high by raising the question of whether Prime could be redeemed. The notion that Superman might actually be able to redeem him was morally fascinating, and a tough hill to climb. Unfortunately, it fell by the wayside pretty early and wasn’t picked up even a little in this final issue. While Johns may have redeemed Hal Jordan after his misdeeds as Parallax, he didn’t manage to do the same for Prime here. As it stands, Prime is one of the most badly-handled, least-necessary, and just-plain-un-fun villains in recent comics history, and I hope this is the last we see of him. What little potential he ever had has been well-and-truly explored by now.

All-in-all, a pretty good series. It could have been a lot more, and of course it had nothing at all to do with Final Crisis, despite the name. But you can’t have everything.

Wednesday Comics #3 Am I really going to review every issue of Wednesday Comics? At only a page of story per story per week, it hardly seems worth it. And yet, here I go.

I think what bugs me most about Kamandi is that it’s one teenaged kid – and anthropomorphic tigers, dogs, and rats. No matter how well drawn it is (and Ryan Sook’s art has progressed a lot since his Jenny Finn series for Mike Mignola a few years back) it’s just a strip about post-apocalyptic anthropomorphics. This premise’s sell-by date passed back when I was in grade school.

Oh my god, the Superman strip is just awful. Bad writing, bad artwork, just bad.

While Busiek is clearly having fun with the setting and characters of the Green Lantern strip, it seems like it’s been three pages of basically nothing so far. Indeed, the second and third pages have the same cliffhanger!

I find Wonder Woman to be unreadable: The panels are so dense it negates the benefits of the larger page size. And I find the story impenetrable. Plus, it doesn’t look like Wonder Woman at all! Teen Titans is only slightly better, although I don’t really care about these characters. And I liked the first page of Neil Gaiman’s Metamorpho, but since then it’s been to splash pages in a row. Talk about uncompressed! It’s got the opposite problem of Wonder Woman; neither has found the right balance of story and art for the format.

Flash is still the best strip in the book The art is a nice mix of realistic and cartoony, sort of like Ty Templeton’s. The story is both off-the-wall and moving. The structure is entertaining, too. It’s almost worth buying Wednesday Comics just for this.

It finally dawned on me that in Hawkman Kyle Baker is directly evoking the art of Sheldon Moldoff, who draw the hero in many of his earliest adventures in the 1940s (and whose style I suspect directly influenced that of Joe Kubert, who draw him later, and who draws the Sgt. Rock pages in Wednesday Comics). Despite largely liking the artwork, I still don’t care for the story or the portrayal of Hawkman here. I suspect this will be the second-biggest misfire of the series (after Superman).

Guardians of the Galaxy #16 This also seems to be all-Marvel week, as nearly every Marvel book I buy comes out on the same week these days, including the two ongoing space-based titles. Nova continues to be a very good book, but Guardians of the Galaxy has been thrashing around trying to find its direction. While Nova has the advantage of being primarily about one character, Guardians is about a team, and so it’s been more easily disrupted by the twice-yearly “events” throwing it off its ongoing story and preventing it from spending time exploring its characters. Which is too bad because the first three issues – prior to the intrusion of Secret Invasion – were very intriguing.

This month’s issue of Guardians is intriguing once more, as we learn something about why Major Victory showed up in the present day (coming back from the future), followed by a rather hostile Starhawk. We learn this because half of the team has been thrown into the future, where they meet the 31st-century Guardians (i.e., the original team created back in the 1970s), and learn that the universe is on the verge of coming to an end. The Guardians are based in the last remaining vestige of Earth – Avengers Mansion, floating in space behind a force field. Having the present-day team arrive in the mansion in its form as a historical museum is a neat moment, as is the revelation of what’s going on. Fortunately Starhawk seems to have learned that Warlock is going to do something which will eventually bring about the catastrophe. Unfortunately, there’s only a limited amount that they can do about it, but they give it their best shot, even if they have to die trying.

The issue ends on a big cliffhanger, with a plot worthy of some of Star Trek‘s time travel yarns (whether that’s good or bad is up to you). It looks like the story is heading for a big finish in the next month or two, in concert with War of Kings. Of course, Abnett and Lanning could milk it for a while longer, although at this point I think it would be best to get this arc resolved and to move on to the next one. Because the story’s got promise once more, and I’d hate to see them squander it.

This Week’s Haul

  • Adventure Comics #0, by Otto Binder & Al Plastino, and Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul (DC)
  • Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #3 of 5, by Geoff Johns, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #118-124, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Rafa Sandoval, Clayton Henry, Roger Bonet & Salva Espin (Marvel)
  • The Boys #27, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #3 There’s not much I can say about Legion of 3 Worlds #3 that wasn’t said in much more detail over at Rokk’s Comic Book Revolution. Okay, I think he’s a little harsh on Geoff Johns’ like or dislike of the Legion, seeing animosity where I see more indifference and the limitations of Johns’ writing skills. But I agree that it feels like the Legion is little more than a backdrop in their own series.

I think an interesting comparison to this issue is the excellent Batman/Legion issue of The Brave and the Bold. Admittedly that features a smaller cast, but Mark Waid handles the characters deftly and gives a whole host of them a chance to shine in a single issue. Johns not only has to deal with three Legions, but throws in a Green Lantern, a Flash, and of course Superman and Superboy Prime. There’s so much going on here that not only does the Legion feel like it’s getting squeezed out, but everyone gets squeezed out, there’s just too much going on and the emotional center of the story (Superman’s notion of redeeming Prime) has gotten buried.

(As a pet peeve, I’m really frustrated by the cold and brusque character of Brainiac 5, one of many developments in the 80s Legion I didn’t care for, as someone who grew up reading the 70s Legion and back issues of the 60s Legion, where he was a more nuanced character. In Mark Waid’s reboot of the team I found it easier to swallow – he was a new character – but in the ‘classic’ Brainiac 5 it rankles. On the other hand, I do find the bickering between the other two Brainiacs amusing.)

The issue holds together to the extent it does thanks to the ever-wonderful artwork of George Pérez, who may be the only artist in comics who can both draw such a huge cast of characters and compose panels and pages to keep everything moving along. And his covers are gorgeous and clever.

Hopefully this is just “middle issue plot development hell” and the last two issues will be better (the first two issues were). And that Johns will return the focus to the Legion. Although the last page – bringing back a character who seems to scare Prime for reasons I honestly cannot fathom – doesn’t inspire a lot of hope. But, we’ll see.

(Incidentally, this week’s Adventure Comics #0 – cover price only $1.00! – reprints the Legion’s first appearance from the 1950s, and has a short back-up which I guess will lead into the Legion’s next re-launch. Not essential reading, but for a buck, how bad can it be?)

The Incredible Hercules #124 I caught up on The Incredible Hercules this week (well, nearly; somehow I missed #125, which apparently just came out), but unfortunately it was a little disappointing. Hercules is still an interesting character, but Amadeus Cho was portrayed as more hormonal teenager than as flawed super-genius, which made him more of a cliche and a lot less interesting. His flirtations with the Amazonian villains in the latest story arc, “Love and War”, felt particularly out of character.

Consequently Hercules is turning into more of a traditional superhero comic- albeit with a variety of gods running around – when it feels like it could have been something different and more interesting. I liked the notion of it being Cho and Hercules against, well, everyone, and maybe with the ambiguity that it wasn’t clear whether they were doing the right thing.

Still, the writing is witty and the art is good. I think if they could turn Cho back into a serious character, it’d be a much better book all around.

This Week’s Haul

A pretty big haul this week (well, last week now): Two series come to an end, I start catching up on a third series I missed out on, and one of my favorite web comics gets collected. Let’s jump in:

  • Final Crisis #7 of 7, by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke, & various inkers (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #23, by Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #50, by “Justin Thyme”, Ramon Bachs & Livesay (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #112-117, by Grek Pak, Fred Van Lente, Khoi Pham, Rafa Sandoval, Paul Neary & Roger Bonet (Marvel)
  • Marvels: Eye of the Camera #3 of 6, by Kurt Busiek & Jay Anacleto (Marvel)
  • Nova #21, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Echo #9, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation vol 1 HC, by Tom Siddell (Archaia)
  • Mister X: Condemned #2 of 4, by Dean Motter (Dark Horse)
  • The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #3 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
Final Crisis #7 It’s no secret that I think DC’s latest big event series, Final Crisis, has been a complete disaster. It started off with some promising elements, but then not only went off the rails in terms of plot and characterization (or lack of characterization), but worst of all, it’s been unrelentingly boring, devoid of either action or of the intriguing new ideas which are usually Grant Morrison’s stock-in-trade. So it’s something of a relief that the final issue came out this week, and I can now turn around and try to sell the pile of cow flop on eBay.

That said, this issue opens with what is easily the best scene in the series: The President of the United States – a black man – is ending a meeting with his advisors, and then heads off for a mission in his other job – as the Superman of his (alternate) world. It’s the natural extension of photos like this one, and it’s quite well done here.

Anyway, to recap the series: After a war in heaven which the New Gods lost, Darkseid has taken over the Earth, and himself been reborn in the body of police officer Dan Turpin. Half the world’s population is enslaved to him, including many superheroes. The rest of humanity is fighting to overthrow him, including Nix Uotan, a fallen Monitor of the many worlds. Superman returns from an extradimensional adventure to find Batman dead, but not before the darknight detective fatally wounded Darkseid. In this issue, the two Flashes (Wally West and a resurrected Barry Allen) lead death (in his guise as the Black Racer) to finish off Darkseid, at which point the dark Monitor Mandrakk appears to finish off the forces of good.

The series started off slow, with quick scenes full of portentiousness. It wasn’t a strong start, but it suggested that the various pieces would come together into a coherent narrative, and that just never happened. The last issue has a few extended scenes, but is still very choppy, with short scenes which never manage to convey the gravity the story strives for.

As many have observed, the general direction of the story is reminiscent of Morrison’s own story from JLA, “Rock of Ages”, in which a few members of the team end up in a future in which Darkseid has conquered the world. That story was more dramatic, faster-paced, and much more tense than Final Crisis ever reaches. Final Crisis stretches itself too thin, divorcing the reader from any emotional impact of the story, taking us too far from the characters that we never really get to know any of them or what they’re thinking.

And really, there’s no reason for the unusual approach to the storytelling: The ideas in Final Crisis are pretty pedestrian; there’s not much here we haven’t seen before, which is unusual since for most of his career Morrison’s strongest asset has been that he’s an “ideas guy”, throwing out interesting stuff which feels out-of-place in superhero comics, but integrating it well enough to make it engaging. This series has been the opposite: Ordinary superhero comic-book ideas told in an unorthodox manner which doesn’t service the ideas or the story at all well, making every aspect of the story feel clumsy and ultimately pointless. (You’d think that gathering the Supermen from every parallel world would qualify as neat stuff, but Alan Moore did it earlier and better in Supreme, so no.)

Speaking of pointless, so many details of the story feel pointless: Why was Barry Allen (the Silver Age Flash) brought back from the dead? He serves no meaningful role in the story; I assume it’s because DC editorial wanted to re-launch him in a new Flash series. Why bother with Mandrakk at all? He’s a bigger villain behind the big villain, but his presence seems a tacit admission that Darkseid just isn’t a big enough villain (which, frankly, I’ve known for years, but I’ve always thought Kirby’s DC characters fell somewhere between silly and stupid). Heck, why bring the Monitors into it at all, when their role in the story was marginal at best? Why bother with the teasing narrative at the start of this issue as if a few survivors of telling the story of the fall of Earth?

Brian Hibbs argues that the problem with the series is that it was positioned as the culmination of DC big boss Dan DiDio‘s tenure at the head of the universe, and that the expectations built up around the series aren’t really Morrison’s fault. But I think the story fails on its own merits, and while editorial usually deserves some blame for that, Morrison deserves a healthy portion himself. It started off weak and stayed weak, and I think it fell down in every aspect of storytelling: Ambition, plot, direction, purpose, characterization, dialogue. It did have a few moments that stood out – Barry being reunited with his wife, the President Superman opener in this issue – but they were few indeed.

Is Final Crisis the worst event series DC has ever done? Of course not: Millennium, at least, was much worse, and there are others you could make a case as being the worst. But Final Crisis was bad. Surprisingly bad, given the talent who worked on it. Morrison’s writing has always been hit-or-miss, but you could usually count on him to at least wow you with his out-there ideas and presentation thereof, but there was little of that here.

I wish we could stop with all the Big Event silliness and just get back to telling good stories. Or at least fun stories. This was neither.

Legion of Super-Heroes #50 Just over a year ago I was pretty excited about Jim Shooter‘s return to Legion of Super-Heroes. Shooter’s run – and the current series – come to an end this week, four issues sooner than Shooter had planned his story to run. This final issue is written by the obviously-pseudonymous “Justin Thyme”, which might be Shooter (using the name in the same way Harlan Ellison used Cordwainer Bird), or maybe Shooter just left and DC got someone else to write the final issue. The pencils are by Ramon Bachs rather than regular penciller Francis Manapul (though Manapul did the cover), suggesting that the whole series just fell apart at an editorial level at the end. (Blaming this on editor Mike Marts might not be fair; it seems like he had to pilot the series through a series of land mines just to get it this far, what with Shooter’s tensions within the industry, and the seeming irrelevance of the series once Legion of 3 Worlds kicked off.)

The issue certainly feels awkward and rushed: Shooter set up the idea of creatures living in a virtual reality running on the hardware of the universe itself invading the “real” universe for their own inscrutable reasons, which frankly is a pretty cool idea. This issue reveals their reasons (which are pretty pedestrian) and provides a straightforward solution to the problem, as indicated in the issue’s title, “Hack the Infinity Net!” Naturally there’s a lot of punching and shooting along the way, which seems out-of-place for a fight with a virtual enemy, and the notion that even Brainiac 5 can take down a whole virtual reality which has existed for millennia when no one else has before strains credulity. If this is the ending Shooter envisions all along – albeit compressed from 5 issues down to 1 – then it’s even more disappointing.

(The official promo for the issue states that it features the return of Cosmic Boy and the death of a longtime Legionnaire, neither of which happens, which makes me think that Shooter didn’t actually write the issue. More speculation about this at Comics Bulletin and Lying in the Gutters, plus comments from Francis Manapul on absence from the issue at Legion World.)

Shooter’s run lasted for 14 issues, and overall I was disappointed by it. He attempted to make the characters sound hip through newly-coined words and clever dialogue. The characterizations felt strained and unnatural, sometimes even embarrassing, and Lightning Lad’s term as leader seemed marked with one bad decision after another, a path the character’s gone down in earlier incarnations. Managing a huge cast like the Legion has is difficult, and in past decades writers have done so by cutting it down to a few members per issue (an approach which resulted in many memorable stories written by Shooter himself). That approach seems to be out of favor these days, but I don’t think dealing with the whole ensemble cast at once played to Shooter’s strengths. The invasion plot line itself had some interesting points, but it felt like it dragged on and periodically faded to the background in favor of the awkward character bits.

I kept wanting to like the series, but it never clicked for me, and there were many times when I cringed at the writing. And while Francis Manapul is a distinctive artist, his style isn’t really to my taste. I can see some of what Shooter was trying to do here, and I appreciate that he had the rug pulled out from under him at the end, but ultimately it wasn’t a successful run, as the story muddled around too much and often just wasn’t very fun.

The Incredible Hercules #112 When Greg Pak ended his run on The Incredible Hulk a year ago, at the conclusion of World War Hulk, Marvel did a couple of interesting things: First, it launched a new Hulk series with the “red Hulk”, written by Jeph Loeb. Second, it continued the old series with Pak as writer (partnered with Fred Van Lente), but retitled it The Incredible Hercules. The premise was that Amadeus Cho, the teenager who’s the “seventh-smartest person in the world” gets together with Hercules (the Greek god who’s also a member of the Avengers) and they have adventures in the post-Civil War Marvel Universe. I was intrigued by the red Hulk story and couldn’t care less about Amadeus Cho and Hercules, so I decided to pick up the former series and drop the latter series.

A year later, as Hulk meanders around aimlessly while Hercules has been getting good word-of-mouth on-line, I feel like I picked the wrong party. And really I should have known better: I’ve always been lukewarm towards Jeph Loeb’s writing, while Greg Pak’s run on Hulk was a lot of fun, engaging, and full of interesting character bits.

Note to self: When deciding which series to buy, always follow the creative talent, not the characters. (And, dammit, I knew that already.)

Fortunately, it’s rarely too late to make up for such a mistake in the comics biz, so this week I picked up the first six issues of The Incredible Hercules, and as I should have guessed they’re fun, engaging, and full of interesting character bits. Hercules is portrayed as being more canny and reasonable than he has been in the past, only smashing things up when his older brother Ares infects him with hydra venom. Cho is just as clever and calculating as he’s been in the past, but intent on bringing down SHIELD almost as much to just have a challenge as to punish the organization responsible for (or at least for enforcing) many of the reprehensible things going on in the Marvel Universe these days.

There are many flashbacks to Hercules’ adventures in Greek myth, showing the stories to be of varying degrees of accuracy, but also showing that Hercules has learned from some of his past mistakes, although others are lessons difficult for him to internalize due to his nature. He’s portrayed as more humble and aware of his limitations than he’s been in the past, but also as someone who prefers to be the “muscle” rather than the leader. Although he’s gained some wisdom, he’s not the smartest of heroes, and he’s aware of this, and maybe a little embarrassed by it. He also has a deep hatred of Ares, who revels in his tendencies towards violence. In sum, Pak and Van Lente give Hercules a nuanced character capable of carrying a series on his own, and also an interesting foil for Cho, whose seeming maturity of in some ways deceptive, as he hasn’t truly grown up and seems to see the world as his own private playground.

With plenty of action mixed in among the reminiscences and musings, I can see why The Incredible Hercules has gotten good reviews. Next week I’ll catch up on the series and add it to my regular pull list. It’s much, much better than the current Hulk series, which I decided to drop last month.

Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation v1 HC Tom Siddell’s excellent web comic Gunnerkrigg Court (which I’ve written about before) finally has its first collection out. The delay is no fault of Siddell’s; it got tied up (I think) due to Archaia’s financial restructuring and subsequent buyout.

But the book’s out, and it looks great! Although it’s in smaller-than-comic-book form, Siddell’s broad style, which relies on composition and expression more than on detail, survives the compression intact. If you’d rather catch up on the series on your couch rather than at your computer, Orientation covers the whole first year of Antimony Carver’s education at the unusual school, nearly 300 pages worth. It’s one of the very best web comics out there, and I highly recommend it.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #21, by David Hine, Doug Braithwaite & Bill Reinhold (DC)
  • Green Lantern #37, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #2 of 2, by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Tom Nguyen, Drew Geraci & Derek Fridolfs (DC)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #11 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Carlos Magno & Julio Ferreira, and Ron Marz, Andie Tong & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Astonishing X-Men #29, by Warren Ellis & Simone Bianchi (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #9, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker, Carlos Magno, Victor Olazaba & Jack Purcell (Marvel)
  • Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Edition vol 2 HC, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #2 Superman Beyond is one of those rare Final Crisis spin-offs which actually ties in to the main series, in that something that happens in it actually happens in the main series, too. Unfortunately, that “something” is Superman leaving Earth for his adventure in this series, and otherwise this story doesn’t seem to have anything at all to do with Final Crisis as a whole – it’s just a quest for Superman to find something to save Lois Lane’s life. Indeed, the opening sequence of Final Crisis #6 seems to be Superman returning from his adventure in Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds (which is also running ridiculously late, as it looks like the last couple of issues will be published after Final Crisis is over). So why bother?

As Chris Sims points out, Superman Beyond plays with the idea of breaking the fourth wall, something writer Grant Morrison has done in his career before. But it’s actually one of the least successful elements of Morrison’s writing: The climax of his early series, Animal Man, features multiple breaks of the fourth wall, but never to any good effect; indeed, the extent to which the climax works (and how well it “works” is debatable; certainly it’s not as strong as the first 5 issues, and it really feels like a cop-out) involves the hero rejecting the idea of the fourth wall and embracing the fundamental nature of the reality from which he came. When it comes to breaking the fourth wall, Morrison’s efforts seem clumsy next to those of (say) Alan Moore, and they don’t really contribute to the story here: The nature of limbo, the land of forgotten characters, could have been replaced with any place of exile beyond the bounds of the known universe and it would have served the story as well.

Superman Beyond does have some good bits to it, mainly involving Superman and his counterparts from alternate Earths. But it’s also full of things that make basically no sense: Why are the Monitors vampires? Why is the “evil Monitor” (who’s saddled with the ridiculous name of Mandrakk) so evil? Could we have some motivation here? And what does any of this have to do with Final Crisis?

Superman Beyond mostly underscores Morrison’s ongoing transformation into a writer who writes for effect rather than purpose, with style but no substance (and the style isn’t all that stylish, either). It’s more fun than Final Crisis, mainly because it has a little bit of characterization and the heroes are likeable, and – thank goodness – it’s a lot shorter and less ponderous. But I can’t really recommend it, since fundamentally it’s a story without a point; it’s for hard-core Morrison fans only.

Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Collection vol 2 I’ve written a summary of Bendis & Oeming’s series Powers previously, and I don’t have a lot to add to the general overview I provided there. But I wanted to write a little something about this second volume of the “definitive” hardcover collection that came out this week.

It’s the middle of (I presume) three volumes collecting the first series of Powers, and while it’s overall the weakest of the three, it’s still got some strong stuff in it. The three stories include: Investigating the death of a Superman-type hero who turns out to have been having a lot of affairs (with women who creepily all look alike – the attention to detail really pays off in this series at times); Investigating the deaths of a team of corporate superheroes, with all the cynicism that the term “corporate superheroes” implies; And a group of anarchists who are killing current and former heroes to make some sort of point. The strength of the stories come from the exploration of detective Christian Walker’s former life as a hero, and his partner Deena Pilgrim’s maturation as a character. The two didn’t really like each other very much early on, but their relationship becomes a lot more interesting as time goes on.

The stories aren’t the strongest in the series mainly because the supporting characters mostly aren’t very interesting; they’re there to create situations for Walker and Pilgrim to end up in, so the stories feel a little manipulative, getting them where they need to be without having it come about organically. I think Bendis does the best that he can, but the build-up to the excellent stuff in the next volume feels artificial.

Still, as a whole Powers is a very good series, even if it’s being published less and less frequently these days. The definitive hardcovers are a pretty good way to read the whole series, although the trades are a good option, too.

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #16, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Fables #80, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Peter Gross & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Final Crisis #6 of 7, by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Doug Mahnke, Marco Rudy, Christian Alamy & Jesus Marino (DC)
  • Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel #3 of 5, by Kevin Grevioux, Mat Broome, Sean Parsons, Roberto Castro & Álvaro Lopez (Marvel)
  • Annihilation Conquest vol 2 TPB, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Sean Chen, Scott Hanna, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Kyle Holz, Tom Raney, & Wellington Alves (Marvel)
  • Daredevil: Born Again premiere HC, by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #1 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Invincible #58, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • The Perhapanauts #5, by Todd Dezago, Craig Rousseau & Jason Copland (Image)
Final Crisis #6 Another month, another issue of DC’s disastrous event series, Final Crisis. This issue could be titled, “This issue, something happens!” Some of the Apokaliptians are defeated, even though the fight took three issues (!) to conclude. Luthor and Sivana outmaneuver Libra, whose role in the series has been so utterly trivial it’s hard to understand why he’s there at all. And Batman faces down Darkseid, and both sides lose. Superman shows up (from a trip whose second issue hasn’t been published yet) to try to pick up the pieces.

It’s dreadfully written, from start to finish, with Morrison piling pointless detail on top of recycled plot device. Who cares that the Legion’s Miracle Machine is Guardian technology harnessed by the Controllers? Captain Marvel Jr. uses the world’s most obvious solution to deal with Bad Mary Marvel, and her claim that she can never change back again feels right out of Miracleman. Then there’s the decidedly unheroic plan to lead the remnants of the human race to life on a parallel world. Okay, the notion that the Question would become part of the global peace agency that creates OMAC is cute, but – so?

This issue of Final Crisis feels like a series of in-jokes, and not particularly funny ones, at that. It’s not clever, it’s not fun, it’s not heroic. Who’s reading this crap?

Oh wait, I am. But only for one more issue. Thank goodness.

On the (much) brighter side…

Daredevil: Born Again Every so often I try to come up with what I think are the ten best comics stories of all time. The list usually changes each time, and I don’t typically even get to ten, but there are two books that are on every list: One is Cerebus: Jaka’s Story, and the other is Daredevil: Born Again. Marvel’s reprinted the latter this month in a nifty hardcover collection, which I happily picked up.

The remarkable thing about Born Again when it was published is that Daredevil’s status quo is completely changed by the story: At the beginning he’s a respected lawyer, and by the end of the first chapter all of that is gone, and he never gets it back. Not surprisingly, he eventually returned to his old status quo, but at the time it was a radical change that seemed irreversible.

Fundamentally, Born Again tears down Daredevil’s life from the very beginning, as his nemesis, the Kingpin of Crime, learns his secret identity. Rather than just killing him, the Kingpin ruins him first, and then kills him. Or tries to. As anyone who has lost everything would be, Daredevil becomes desperate, has nowhere to turn, and confronts his torturer. But, having escaped death, Daredevil has nowhere farther down to go, and he’s forced to understand who he is at his very core, and to rely on that essential self to pull himself up. Miller chronicles Daredevil’s arc carefully, but every little bit counts.

Daredevil is sometimes pushed aside in his own story: The Kingpin has his own arc and gets considerable page time as he’s flying high after doing away with the hero, until he realizes that not everything has gone according to plan. Between these two is Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich, a friend of Daredevil’s who is also targeted by the Kingpin due to his investigative skills, and who has to face his own demons as a result. The book is full of interesting supporting characters, and even the Bugle editor, J. Jonah Jameson, gets a chance to shine; Jameson may have a blind spot where Spider-Man is concerned, but we see here that he truly is a good man when it counts.

Born Again is a deeply human story, with just a few whiffs of super-powers. Heroes and villains circling each other in a game more complex and deadly than a mere fight. And David Mazzucchelli is an essential component of the story, his artwork impressing with his control of light and shadow from the very first page, moving to a highly stylized approach when things are at their darkest, before returning to a more traditional style in the climax.

It really is one of the best comics ever. Don’t miss it.

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #15, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Final Crisis #5 of 7, by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Marco Rudy & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Echo #8, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #2, by John Arcudi & John Severin (Dark Horse)
  • Thieves & Kings: Apprentices Part One, by Mark Oakley (I-Box)
  • Invincible #56, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Final Crisis #5 Maybe it’s too easy to keep bashing Final Crisis. “This issue: Nothing happens – again!” It is fun, though.

But it’s so easy because this is one bad mini-series. Grant Morrison’s storytelling seems to have headed south in a big way around the time of Seven Soldiers, and it seems like Final Crisis is the nadir of that plummet. Characterization is somewhere between “nonexistent” and “incomprehensible”, the plot doesn’t make much sense, and there’s basically no sense of tension (largely because there are no characters we can relate to). It’s like Morrison set out to present the sterling example of a story which seems cool and deep and multifaceted, but is anything but those things. It’s not just style-over-substance; there ain’t much style here, either.

In this latest issue, Darkseid has been resurrected (from what?) and has taken over half the world’s population with his mental domination (again?). The remaining heroes are launching their final strike against Darkseid’s troops, though it seems like they don’t have much idea what’s really going on. The Alpha Lantern charges against Green Lantern are exposed for the sham they are, and the Guardians of the Universe send him and his cohorts to Earth, with “24 hours to save the universe”. Superman is missing (he’s off having his own adventures in a spin-off mini-series), but the apparent savior emerges in the form of the fallen Monitor who seems to be awaken by a Mother Box in the form of a Rubik’s Cube. Meanwhile the Flashes, whose presence seemed key to the story a few issues ago, don’t show up at all.

Apparently Mary Marvel is possessed by Darkseid’s sadistic scientist, Desaad, which is why she’s got a bad haircut and is dressed in leather, but it’s not clear to me why she’s the only hero who’s so possessed; most of the other Apokaliptians have taken over ordinary people. It doesn’t make much sense. And then, in this issue she takes out Black Adam by throwing a car at him, which is the sort of thing he ought to be able to shrug off and barely notice. Stupid.

The art is very pretty. Carlos Pacheco splits time with J.G. Jones, and the difference is barely noticible on casual reading. But Pacheco is a top-tier artist, so that’s almost to be expected.

I just don’t see how Morrison can salvage this series in 2 issues, nor that it could be anything that DC could build on in their universe for 2009. It’s relentlessly nihilistic, and largely nonsensical. It’s becoming hard to understand why this project was ever green-lighted.

(For a very different opinion, there’s Brian Cronin’s review; what he finds awesome I just find to be tiresome retread.)

Thieves & Kings: Apprentices Part One In many ways, Thieves & Kings should be the last comic book I’d become a fan of: It’s set in a medieval fantasy world, which I generally find boring. Writer/artist Mark Oakley’s style has a quasi-Magna look to it, with angular faces and big-dot eyes and all that, and I can’t stand the Magna art style. It’s a lengthy ongoing story which ebbs and flows and rarely seems to bring its plot or characters to a stopping point; in many ways it’s an ongoing soap opera. It’s portentious and often sentimental, and it’s frequently very difficult to figure out how its extended timeline fits together. And, it alternates graphic sequences with illustrated text sections, the latter of which annoy the hell out of me in most other books.

And yet, since I first discovered it over ten years ago, it’s been one of my favorite independent comics.

The key is that it’s strongly character-driven. The two main characters – a young thief, Rubel, and a young sorceress, Heath – both start off as young teenagers, and despite their skills and maturity of their age, they often find themselves in circumstances they just don’t have the experience to be able to handle. We see them grow up in a land with magic (some visible, some merely implied) under extraordinary circumstances, and Oakley rarely sends them down the obvious path. The supporting cast is also strong: The eccentric but powerful wizard Quinton Zempfester; the Shadow Lady and her murky goals; an oppressive Prince of the land of Oceansend and his rebellious, exiled sister.

The series has been on hiatus for a while, and now it’s back in a new 104-page volume, which apparently will be the format of the series from now on, which is okay with me; after the hiatus I’m happy to have more of the series in any form!

This volume focuses on a pair of young sorceresses, Kim and Leahanna, who recently left their no-good mentor, Locumire, and have thrown in with Rubel and Heath. Both of them also have ties to the Shadow Lady, and this book explores those ties through some flashbacks, as well as Leahanna having a public and violent meltdown when confronted with the brutality of the Prince’s soldiers.

The book has the series’ trademark character bits, but also a big confrontation which is a rarity in the series and thus quite a shift in tone when it happens. It also some humorous bits, such as when Rubel gets his feet turned to metal to keep him out of the way. Oakley’s artwork is clean and easy to follow, and his ability to draw complex cityscapes is among the best in the business. It may not be the ideal place to jump in to the story, but it’s not bad.

If you try this one and enjoy it, or if you’re willing to just jump in and start from the beginning, I highly recommend the first two volumes, The Red Book and The Green Book, which you can order from Oakley’s web site. They’re probably the two best volumes in the series so far, and the series flagged a little before it went on hiatus. But I’m hoping the time away will have reinvigorated Oakley and that we’ll see new stuff fairly regularly and that things will move along a little better.

Time will tell if Thieves & Kings ultimately delivers on the considerable promise of its early issues – after all this time I’m still not sure where it’s heading – but I think it’s fair to say it’s greatly underappreciated. I’m elated to see it come back.

This Week’s Haul

  • Final Crisis #4 of 7, by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Superman: New Krypton Special #1, by Geoff Johns, James Robinson, Sterling Gates, Pete Woods, Gary Frank, Renato Guedes, Jon Sibal & Wilson Magalhaes (DC)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #8 of 12, by Jan Jurgens, Wes Craig & Dan Davis, and Ron Marz, Andie Tong & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Hulk #7, by Jeph Loeb, Arthur Adams & Frank Cho (Marvel)
  • Longshot HC, by Ann Nocenti & Arthur Adams (Marvel)
  • Echo #7, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Invincible #54, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Final Crisis #4 In this week’s installment of Final Crisis, basically nothing happens.

By which I mean: Darkseid has essentially taken over the world through judicious distribution of Anti-Life (but that happened last issue), the heroes fail to mount an effective defense or for that matter really do much of anything at all, and Darkseid manages his own resurrection.

This may be the slowest limited series ever.

I mean, c’mon; the series should have gotten to the final page of this issue by the end of issue #1, or maybe issue #2. And, geez, I don’t really have anything to add to that, because basically nothing happens in this issue. And to the extent that it seems like something happens, none of it is new: At best this is sort of a lead-in to the dark future portrayed in Morrison’s old JLA yarn, Rock of Ages. The heroes pulling together evokes Crisis on Infinite Earths. And although Barry Allen coming back is hands-down the best part of the book, we’ve seen it before, too, several times.

As has been widely reported, artist J.G. Jones is not going to be drawing the final issue of Final Crisis, and indeed he splits time here with the always-terrific Carlos Pacheco (his replacement for #7 will be the less-terrific Doug Mahnke). While I like Jones’ renderings, I think his static layouts have slowed the story down even further.

I joked in a comment in Chris Sims’ Invincible Super-Blog that I’m enjoying Marvel’s Secret Invasion more than Final Crisis even though I’m not even buying it, just thumbing through it in the store. But at least stuff is happening in Secret Invasion. Final Crisis is thoroughly, resoundingly, a storytelling train wreck.

In very, very slow motion.

Superman: New Krypton Special #1 I’m not sure why I picked up the New Krypton Special, since I was underwhelmed by the “Brainiac” story in Action Comics, and because I really have a hard time seeing them doing anything new and innovative with the story of a city full of Kryptonians arriving on Earth and gaining super powers.

This special starts with Jonathan Kent’s funeral, which is rather well done; Johns and Frank nail the emotions Clark must be feeling, and his memories of his dad are genuinely touching. It still feels a little gratuitous that they went this avenue in the first place, but at least it’s been tastefully and touchingly handled.

The rest of the book has two threads: First is a government project to interrogate Brainiac, a project which is concerned both with how to deal with Superman should it become necessary, and more urgently to deal with thousands of other Kryptonians who have recently arrived on the planet. The other thread involves Superman and Supergirl visiting Kandor in the Arctic where they meet Supergirl’s parents, Zor-El and Alura, and see that the Kandorians are developing super-powers. Unfortunately (but predictably) they don’t really have much interest in integrating with human culture, and instead see Earth as “New Krypton”.

Certainly there’s some promise here, but I can’t shake the notion that the story is just going to be a big disappointment. To some extent this is the drawback of being in the DC Universe: Not only are there thousands of superhumans on Earth, not to mention plenty of big guns which could probably do some serious harm to the Kandorians, but there are groups like the Green Lantern Corps out there who would certainly have an interest in reining in the Kandorians if they behave badly. Will the story deal with these issues head-on? Hard to say, but I expect various contrivances to avoid (for example) a Kandorian-Green Lantern Corps showdown.

Actually I think the best outcome for this story is to sidestep the expected attempts by various Kandorians to do as they wish on this planet of Kleenex-people and go in some other direction. For example, the Kandorians might actually end up being more socially sophisticated and understanding than humans (presently) are. But what fun would that be?

Anyway. I’m not sure whether I’ll keep buying the New Krypton stories. I might, since it’s just another book a month, but I can’t shake the feeling that the whole thing is just a Bad Idea. But perhaps I’ll see if they can prove me wrong.

(Oh, one thing I don’t understand, having just read the Supergirl/Raven story in The Brave and the Bold, is why Supergirl has this huge animosity towards and fear of her father in that story (it was what was driving the story, actually), but is delighted to see her parents still alive in this one. Seems like someone somewhere in editorial dropped the ball on that one.)

Tangent: Superman's Reign #8 I was enjoying Tangent: Superman’s Reign for the first few issues, but my interest has been flagging lately. Partly the story feels stretched, with characters running to and fro without much sense of drama. But the big blow has been the artwork, especially in the main series: We got several issues of the polished and elegant art of Jamal Ingle, but the last two issues have features Wes Craig’s much sketchier style, which just doesn’t work for me. I speculate that the comic hasn’t been doing well in sales so editorial reallocated Ingle’s time elsewhere. That’s just a guess, though.

The series is still somewhat entertaining, though nowhere near as much fun as the original Tangent comics, which were a “skip week” project back in the 90s (and which have been recently reprinted and are worth seeking out). But it feels like it could have been a lot better.

Hulk vol 4 #7 The “red Hulk” series is heading off the rails in the hurry. Publishing delays haven’t helped, of course, but the story’s losing direction fast. This issue is split into two parts: Bruce Banner returns to Las Vegas and turns into the gray Hulk, where he runs into Moon Knight. And She-Hulk recruits Valkyrie and Thundra to go after the red Hulk. So both stories end on cliffhangers, and naturally we have Frank Cho drawing the story with the three statuesque women, a cliche that seems like it’s even older than I am. So we end up with a ridiculous splash page like this:

Holk vol 4 #7 splash page
(click for larger image)

(Is this panel better or worse than the cover to Tangent: Superman’s Reign above? Arguably they’re about the same, but at least I got more value from the inside of Tangent, whereas the second story in Hulk is completely gratuitous.)

Plus, the dialogue is so bad I had to wonder if it was written by Cho, too. Ugh. (You know, I used to be a fan of Cho’s, back when he was doing Liberty Meadows. But in my opinion he hasn’t really developed much as an artist since then, and the quirks of his writing and layouts became repetitive and tiresome.)

This series was entertaining when it was big monsters smashing each other, with a hint of mystery about the red Hulk. But that’s basically gone. And certainly there’s no sophistication to the story – that got left behind when Greg Pak ended his run. Now it’s just a mess.

On the bright side the gray Hulk half was illustrated by Art Adams, which is always a treat. Speaking of which…

Longshot premiere hardcover This week saw the publication of the Longshot hardcover collection, reprinting the mini-series from 1985. This is notable because it was also Art Adams’ first major comics work.

Longshot is an amnesiac freedom-fighter from an alternate dimension, stranded in our world and trying to both adjust to it and deal with some of the stuff from his world that’s chasing him. Longshot is a true innocent, but he’s also got boffo acrobatic skills, and the ability to twist probabilities around him to his advantage. The whole thing is a fun ride, weirdly quirky, slightly existential.

Watching Adams develop through the six issues collected here is a revelation. The first two issues are very rough, clearly someone still finding his voice, and struggling with facial expressions especially. By the fourth issue, many of the trademark Adams poses and stylistic flourishes are there, and by the sixth he seems nearly like the Adams we’ve known ever since. Okay, he’s honed his craft and become a better storyteller since then, but the fundamentals of his style, what makes his art his, are all there.

Nocenti was clearly a relatively novice writer when the series was published, and it shows around the edges: The dialogue is rough at times, and the narrative can be difficult to follow. I think this is partly deliberate (Longshot’s memories of his pre-Earth life are deliberately dreamlike) but partly because Nocenti is taking a pretty challenging route in telling the story and it’s not quite smooth enough. Still, seeing something that’s this good yet still this rough makes it both an intriguing read and an interesting historical document. It’s a very distinctively told story, and nothing else I’ve read in mainstream comics is quite the same.

Longshot somehow ended up being shoehorned into the X-Men, which always seemed like a big mismatch to me, since he’s not a mutant, he’s very much a loner struggling to find somewhere to fit in. It’s always been disappointing that Nocenti never had the opportunity to follow up with some more solo adventures of the character. But that’s all water under the bridge now. This series stands not so much as a reminder of what might have been, but rather of the strange wonderful comics that were published by the big two back in the 1980s. Days like that don’t come around very often.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold: The Book of Destiny HC, by Mark Waid, George Pérez, Jerry Ordway, Bob Wiacek & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #18, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Jerry Ordway, Mick Gray, Kris Justice & Nathan Massengill (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #45, by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul & Livesay (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #3, by Matt Wagner & Amy Reeder Hadley (DC/Vertigo)
  • Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #1 of 2, by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • newuniversal: Conqueror #1, by Simon Spurrier & Eric Nguyen (Marvel)
  • Nova #16, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
The Brave and the Bold vol 2: The Book of Destiny Although I loved the first volume in Mark Waid and George Pérez’s The Brave and the Bold (The Lords of Luck), I was not nearly as enthusiastic about the second one. Although The Book of Destiny reads better in collected form than as individual issues, it still shows all of its warts: It’s got a hodge-podge of characters thrown together for shakier-than-usual reasons (Ultraman?), and a plot whose villain’s motivation feels insufficiently crafted, with a sudden reversal at the end which also doesn’t work for me. But the big problem is that Waid’s characterizations – usually his strong suit – fail him badly here. His depiction of Power Girl in the first chapter is about as ham-handed as I can recall seeing, and the Flash/Doom Patrol story also features one-note characterizations which often feel contrived and out-of-place.

The best story in the volume is the short Hawkman/Atom yarn, although the beginning of the Superman/Ultraman one is pretty funny. And of course Pérez’s artwork is great, as usual, and if you’re losing George Pérez in the middle of a story – as happened here – you can’t do much better than replacing him with Jerry Ordway, who gets to pencil the finale.

It’s the artwork that motivated me to pick up the hardcover of this – well, that and the fact that I already owned the first volume in hardcover – but anyone else who wants to read the back half of the Waid/Pérez run on this title would probably do better to wait for the (cheaper) paperback. Overall, it was a big disappointment compared to the terrific first half.

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1 Superman Beyond 3D is a 2-part story spinning out of Final Crisis #3, in which a Monitor, Zilla Vallo, plucks Superman from the side of Lois Lane’s hospital bed to take him outside reality on a quest to save her. She’s recruited several of his counterparts from parallel worlds to help: Ultraman, Captain Marvel, Overman (from a world in which the Nazis won World War II) and Quantum Superman (based on a combination of Captain Atom and Doctor Manhattan, it seems like). They end up in limbo – the place where forgotten characters go to live forever in obscurity – and learn about their nemesis, Mandrakk.

I’ve been pretty down on Final Crisis so far, and unfortunately this issue fits right in with that: It’s a bunch of gosh-wow stuff thrown together so that it makes no sense. Why bring together the five Supermen? Who thought bringing in Ultraman would be a good idea? (Although if you’re an Ultraman fan, that means you can get a double dose this week.) What exactly are they supposed to accomplish? Who is Zilla Vallo and why is this her fight? Why go to limbo? To be fair, it’s the first issue and arguably Morrison is going to explain it all in the second issue. Unfortunately, his track record suggests that a lot of it won’t be explained at all, it’s just there for the gosh-wow factor, but that’s not the reaction it gets from me.

Much of it also feels like old territory, too. The form of Limbo is certainly old news, whether it feels like it’s from Morrison’s own Animal Man of 20 years ago, or the Supremacy from Alan Moore’s Supreme, and in any event it feels a lot like the Bizarro world from All-Star Superman, and the concept seems like just a more depressing version of . Morrison references the Bleed, which is a Warren Ellis interpretation of the multiverse, and Morrison doesn’t add anything new to it here. And on top of this we have the silliness with some pages being in 3-D – a pair of 3-D glasses are included – which adds nothing to the story. (At least it wasn’t all in 3-D, or I’d have passed on it entirely.)

So the story isn’t very much. The art is sometimes very good, and sometimes rather iffy. I think I liked Doug Mahnke’s work best back when he was drawing The Mask, since his sense of shape and form gave his books a very solid feel, the exact opposite of the Image style which was prevalent in those days. He’s changed quite a bit since then, working more with shadows and layouts, and I think it hasn’t been a change for the better. Some of his pages look great – especially the two-page spread in which Zilla Vallo contacts Superman – but others look very awkward: Any page in which a character is grimacing or gasping or shouting or gritting their teeth, and their faces just look deeply unnatural (which means that Ultraman always looks unnatural).

It’s weird to think that Grant Morrison, who’s usually one of the more innovative ideas men in comics, seems to be retracing the steps of Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, and himself, but that seems to be what’s happening. But this could still be a pretty good story, except that Morrison seems to have lost sight of giving the readers a reason to care. Superman’s supposedly doing this to save Lois, but what ‘this’ is he doing? And the adventure is all too metaphysical to have any emotional resonance (not really surprising, as emotional resonance has never been Morrison’s strong suit). Is this story really going to matter? My guess is no.

newuniversal: Conqueror newuniversal: Conqueror is another one-shot providing background to Warren Ellis’ newuniversal series, this one taking place in 2689 B.C., when a White Event has given several individuals in this primitive world the powers of the New Universe heroes we’re seeing play out in the main title. In this story, one of the empowered characters has gone badly wrong, and he’s manipulating the others for his own end, to the detriment of the timeline. The beings from outside the timeline are trying to warn the others, and this issue is mostly about the Star Brand character – the Conqueror of the title – trying to figure out what’s going on.

It’s a story of small scope, and it works on those terms, although I found the ending to be too abrupt and unsatisfying. Eric Nguyen’s art has a sketchy quality to it, but it works for me in the gloomy atmosphere it brings to the story – although as with many artists these days (it seems), he needs to work on drawing background so the story doesn’t seem like it’s taking place in mid-air.

newuniversal is quietly becoming one of the more intriguing mainstream comics. I hope Ellis keeps with it and sees it through to a conclusion. (Of course, I’m still waiting for that last issue of Planetary…)

This Week’s Haul

A small week, but one chock-full of geeky goodness. Which seems fitting, since this is my 500th post to Fascination Place!

  • The Brave and the Bold #16, by Mark Waid & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #1 of 5, by Geoff Johns, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #6 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Jamal Ingle & Robin Riggs, and Ron Marz, Fernando Pasarin & Scott McKenna (DC)
  • Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man vol 101 HC, collecting Amazing Spider-Man #88-99, by Stan Lee, John Romita & Gil Kane (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #4, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
The Brave and the Bold #16 Mark Waid’s run on The Brave and the Bold comes to a quiet end with a decent team-up of Superman and Catwoman. I’m not a big fan of Scott Kolins’ artwork these days – it seems like it’s getting increasingly less polished in its finishes, which I find rather off-putting – but it’s okay. The series never quite recovered from its stumbles starting with issue #7, nor the loss of George Pérez’s artwork, so it feels like it kind of limped to a finish. The first 6-issue story was terrific, though.

But the series is continuing with some fill-ins by Marv Wolfman, and then I guess J. Michael Straczynski is going to be the next regular writer. It’ll be interesting to see how that turns out, since Straczynski is a very low-key writer (in his comics work, anyway) and B&B always feels like it should be full of bombast and improbable, wild creativity.

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #1 If ever there was a series made for fanboys, it’s Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds. Boy, where to even begin? Well to start with, it’s drawn by George Pérez, who’s probably my favorite comics artist ever, and who’s noted for packing an amazing amount of detail into each panel, but who’s hardly ever drawn the Legion of Super-Heroes (nor, often, Superman). And the art is just gorgeous, as you’d expect.

The story all by itself has so many back-references to the history of the Legion and this decade’s DC continuity that anyone unfamiliar with it probably isn’t part of the target audience: The Time Trapper plucks Superboy Prime out of the time stream in the wake of the Sinestro Corps War and sends him to the 31st century, where the world is picking up the pieces in the wake of the defeat of Earth-Man during the recent Action Comics story “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes”. Prime visits the Superman Museum, where he learns about the Legion and how Superman – whom he hates – inspired the team and the creation of the United Planets, and also about the Legion of Super-Villains, whom he breaks out of prison to they can help him tear down everything Superman inspired.

Meanwhile, the Legion are being interrogated by the UP’s governing body, since many of them feel the Legion is no longer needed. Their one-time backer, R.J. Brande, shows up to speak in support of them, and it seems to be working, until he’s abruptly murdered, and the fact that he’s actually a Durlan is publicly revealed. This throws the UP into chaos. Other Legionnaires are busy finding and/or rescuing their missing teammates, but several of them can’t be found. Amidst all of this, they find out about Prime’s missing, and they summon Superman from the 20th century. Brainiac 5 reasons that the best way to fight the villains is to recruit their counterparts from two parallel worlds, and while Superman thinks that will help, he also thinks that Prime can’t merely be stopped, nor should he be killed, but that they need to find some way to redeem him, to bring him back to the hero he was during the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

If that made your head spin, then this series might not be for you, but as a longtime Legion fan, I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Now, to enjoy it you do basically have to avoid worrying about continuity, as there are continuity errors all over the place, and I assume it’s because Geoff Johns just didn’t want to bother dealing with all the little details which would prevent it from being a fun story, not least because he clearly wants to tell a story about the Legion he grew up with. Just a few of the differences I spotted:

  • The “classic” Legion clearly spins off from the end of Paul Levitz’ run on the book, and Keith Giffen’s “Five Years Later” stories never took place. For instance, the Legion remembers Superman as having been a member, so the Pocket Universe stories never took place, and Mon-El is his original self, rather than his FYL “Valor” self. I think FYL started out strong but fizzled after half a year or so, so I don’t mind this being pushed out of continuity.
  • The panel depicting the Zero Hour rebooted Legion shows some characters who are dead in that continuity, such as Monstress and Leviathan.
  • The Mark Waid/Barry Kitson Legion (the one currently being depicted in the ongoing Legion series) shows Supergirl as a member, even though she departed a while ago.
  • Superboy Prime is still Superboy, even though he’d had adventures as Superman Prime during Countdown – another example of Countdown being basically willfully disregarded by later series (which isn’t such a bad thing, as it was awful).

There are a lot of interesting things that bringing the three Legions could result in. For instance, maybe one of them is the Legion of Earth 2. Or having characters meet who are substantially different among the worlds, such as Princess Projectra and Sensor. I don’t expect them to clear up which Karate Kid stayed in the 20th century at the end of “The Lightning Saga”, though. Honestly I don’t think anyone at DC editorial has any idea why they bothered with that plot thread, anyway, since it ended up going nowhere.

The biggest risk the series runs is that of not just having a single large cast of Legionnaires, but three of them, and characterization getting lost in the shuffle – always a risk with any Legion series. But the most encouraging thing is Superman’s stated goal at the end of the issue: Not to just to stop Prime, but to redeem him. I’ve been pretty unhappy with how this character has been treated, and finding a way to redeem him would be a challenge well worthy of a 5-issue series illustrated by George Pérez. Here’s hoping Geoff Johns can pull it off; he’s off to a good start.

(Oh, one more thing: There’s no apparent connection between this series and Final Crisis that I can see. Maybe they’ll work it in there somehow, but I rather hope it ends up standing on its own.)

Anyway, yes, I’m a big Legion geek. I don’t think that “my” Legion will ever truly appear again, but I do enjoy reading good Legion stories.

Guardians of the Galaxy #4 Guardians of the Galaxy is saddled with a Secret Invasion crossover in its 4th issue, much like Nova got stuck with an Annihilation: Conquest crossover in its 4th, but this one makes even less sense since the Guardians don’t operate on Earth, which is where the invasion is taking place! but Abnett & Lanning play a neat trick by locking the Guardians on their extradimensional home base of Knowhere, and revealing that there are shape-shifting Skrulls infiltrating that place, too! Plus, the Guardians find that many inhabitants of Knowhere don’t really trust or like them, and a couple of the Guardians members are acting a little oddly. From the issue’s last panel, it looks like things are really going to blow up next month, so this might be pretty good as non-crossover crossover stories go. If nothing else, DnA are taking every opportunity to keep advancing the Guardians’ own story in the middle of all this.

This Week’s Haul

  • Final Crisis #3 of 7, by Grant Morrison & J.G. Jones (DC)
  • Avengers/Invaders #4 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Steve Sadowski (Marvel)
  • Hulk #5, by Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuinness (Marvel)
  • The Twelve #7 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Weston & Garry Leach (Marvel)
  • Echo #5, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • The Boys #21, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Star Trek: Assignment Earth #4 of 12, by John Byrne (IDW)
Final Crisis #3 I’m not sure two reviews of Final Crisis #3 could be more different than Brian Cronin’s and what I’m about to write. Cronin loved it, while I, well, didn’t.

Almost everything Morrison does here is either boring, or has been done before. A few people seem to be impressed with how he’s handling bringing back Barry Allen (the silver age Flash), but c’mon, it’s not like Barry hasn’t been popping up from time to time for the last 20 years anyway. The guy’s a time traveller! Maybe he’s back for good, but – so? Hal Jordan (the silver age Green Lantern) died, and came back not once (as the Spectre) but twice (as Green Lantern again, complete with his own ongoing series). There’s nothing in this to get even a little excited about.

Almost everything in the series feels like it’s been done before. The running subplot involves bringing back characters from Morrison’s Seven Soldiers series (and what a mess of a narrative that was). The main threat is of Darkseid and his minions of Apokolips conquering the world – “the day that evil won” as the series’ tag line goes. But Morrison used this exact same premise – and used it very well – in his own run on JLA a decade ago!

This issue also features the conscription of superheroes to fight the threat, hearkening back to the formation of the All-Star Squadron (which is explicitly referenced), but doing so makes no sense: Far direr threats have arisen in the DC universe in the past without resorting to such measures. Why this, why now? History suggests that simply putting out the call to all hands would be sufficient – these are the DC heroes, after all.

This series is just one instance after another of things that either don’t make sense, or just aren’t fun or exciting or thought-provoking. The longer Final Crisis goes on, the more pointless it seems. If this really is the “final crisis” of the DC universe, it’s because the concept has jumped the shark – there are no more interesting crises to tell.

Avengers/Invaders #4 Alex Ross/Jim Krueger projects don’t have a good track record in my estimation, going all the way back to my bitter disappointment with Earth X, but I keep trying them out anyway. Project Superpowers over at Dynamite has been pretty awful, but to my surprise I’m rather enjoying Avengers/Invaders. The premise is that the Invaders from World War II – Captain America and Bucky, the Human Torch and Toro, and Namor the Sub-Mariner – have been accidentally brought forward to 2008 New York City, along with (and without their knowledge) a US soldier of that era. This is problematic since in the present Marvel Universe, Cap is dead, Bucky is the new Cap, Namor is King of Atlantis and has withdrawn from the surface world, and, well, I don’t know what the status of the Human Torch and Toro are, since it seems like it changes every few years. Moreover, the Invaders think this is all some Nazi plot, especially since Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. capture them while trying to figure out how to return them to their own time. And frankly, after the Civil War I can’t really fault anyone for accusing Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. of being Nazis. Anyway, two groups of Avengers end up fighting over the Invaders which is where this issue leaves off.

I think what’s winning me over with this series is that it’s treating time travel seriously and not as some sort of gimmick: The adult Bucky finds the Invaders Cap’s shield and shows up at the end of this issue, clearly having memories of this adventure. The current Namor also recalls what happened and deliberately sends his younger self off without help from Atlantis to fulfill his destiny. And the soldier meets his future self – who’s nearly 90 years old – and compares notes. It’s all played for drama rather than convenience, and with the hint that the Invaders’ removal has also changed history, with dire consequences on the way once the changes catch up to the current day.

Admittedly, none of this is especially original, but it’s a lot less ponderous than the usual Ross/Krueger fare, with good art by Steve Sadowski. 12 issues might end up being too long if there aren’t some new plot twists in store, but so far, so good.

The Twelve #7 Speaking of heroes transported from World War II to the present day, J. Michael Straczynski’s The Twelve starts its second half this month. Like Ross, Straczynski’s another comics writer whose stuff I find to be too slow without much ever happening. (His current run on Thor is a perfect example of this.) The Twelve isn’t exactly gripping, but the mix of plot (which is shaping up to be a murder mystery of sorts) and drama (the heroes meeting their old – now very old – friends and their descendants) is nonetheless engaging. The gorgeous artwork by Weston and Leach helps quite a bit, too.

This issue continues the theme of characters reconnecting with their past 63 years later, as Captain Wonder meets his former sidekick, Tim, now an old man. The guy’s hard a rough time of it, as his wife and sons all died before he was revived. But the ongoing story makes some progress as Master Mind Excello tells the Phantom Reporter of some premonitions he’s had regarding the group, and the Reporter both investigates a murder in the city and then confronts the Black Widow about her nighttime excursions.

There are lots of hints that funny things are going on: Dynamic Man might be involved in the aforementioned murder, the Widow is being used by some demon as an angel of vengeance, and the inert robot Electro apparently has been wandering off as well, but who’s been doing what is still unclear.

The main thing I regret about this series is that the cast feels too large for its scope, as several characters seem both fairly generic and don’t get much screen time, which makes me wonder why they’re there. With five issues left to go perhaps they’ll play a role. But although the series superficially feels a bit like Watchmen, the storytelling is pretty standard and not very dense, so there’s only a limited amount of space per issue to tell the story, so perhaps not. Still, I’m certainly enjoying it enough to want to see how it turns out.

The Boys #21 I’m still enjoying The Boys, Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson’s brutal take on amoral superheroes, but the current story, “I Tell You No Lie G.I.”, has been somewhat disappointing. Early on it seemed like the world was overrun by superheroes, who mostly (maybe entirely) got their powers from a special drug which seemed to have gotten leaked to many companies and governments able to produce these supers, and The Boys were a covert group trying to rein in the worst abuses, especially a few corporate-run American superheroes.

This story reveals a lot of the series’ backstory, and the book’s scope is narrowing to being a conspiracy story: The drug which creates heroes is mainly controlled by a single company (Vought American), which is using it to become a major player on the national and world stage. I find this disappointing because giving the heroes a major villain and target (Vought American) seems just too simplistic; having a few foes who are representative of the larger problems – but a problem which is too big to be tackled by a single covert team – would be much more interesting, I think. The series is feeling more and more like Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, only with superpowers and some gratuitous sex and violence (well, okay, even more gratuitous sex and violence than in Transmet).

Or maybe I’m just tired of this sort of conspiracy story.