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This Week's Haul

A friend of mine told me that I read a shitload of comic books. I’m not sure whether he meant an imperial shitload, or a metric shitload, but whatever crappy units you use, this week was another big load:

  • The Flash: Rebirth #2 of 5, by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Sciver (DC)
  • Blackest Night #0, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert & Rob Hunter (DC)
  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three #1 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Power Girl #1, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • War of Kings #3 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Far West: Bad Mojo #2 of 2, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • Fire and Brimstone #5 of 5, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • Irredeemable #2, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • The Boys #30, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • The Life and Times of Savior 28 #2, by J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Cavallero (IDW)
  • Star Trek: Crew #3 of 5, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910 by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf)
Blackest Night #0 A friend asked if I was going to review Blackest Night #0, which was part of Free Comic Book Day, and how could I resist a direct request?

Blackest Night is this year’s big event in the DC Universe, although writer Geoff Johns says it’s a story he’s wanted to do since he relaunched Green Lantern. There’s a hint of it back in the Black Hand story in the series’ first year, so clearly Johns has had something in mind since then.

This is one of the higher-quality FCBD issues from the Big Two that I can recall: It’s the beginning of a larger story, written by one of their big name writers with solid art (although I’m not entirely sold on Ivan Reis as a top-tier guy). It also does a pretty good job of recapitulating the set-up of Green Lantern, explaining the assortment of “Lantern Corps” through a series of pin-ups, leading into the main story, and also providing a bit of insight into the hero through GL’s dialogue with the Flash, reminiscing about their fallen friends and especially GL’s relationship with Batman. It’s not a complete story in itself – though you can’t fault DC for using a freebie as advertising for the rest of the story – but for what it is it’s quite good.

As I’ve said of late, Green Lantern is probably Geoff Johns’ best work. This issue might not completely sell you on the series – especially since it has a complex backstory at this point – but it certainly tries its darndest. I approach all big events in comics with trepidation, and I don’t have much confidence that it will, as Johns says in his afterword, “recharge the DC Universe”, but I think it could be a fine, fun story.

So check it out. You can’t beat the price.

Power Girl #1 Superman’s almost-cousin Power Girl gets her own ongoing series this month. Thankfully she’s seemingly past the ridiculous identity crisis that plagued her JSA Classified story a few years ago, but the challenge for the series is to give her a reason for being a headliner. PG has always been at her brightest when she plays a counterpoint to other characters – she was, after all, conceived as a young, upstart counterpoint to the stodgy Golden Age Superman – but she’s had trouble leading up her own stories, because she’s not really grounded in anything but being one of the heavy-hitters on a super-team. I assume her appeal is a mix of her (ahem) physique and her strong, no-nonsense personality. Neither of those are really enough to carry a series, but filling her with angst over her background runs counter to her essential personality, and is why the JSA Classified story didn’t work.

This first issue restores her Karen Starr identity from the 70s, in which she’s the head of a tech company. As PG, she fights a bunch of constructs controlled by the Ultra-Humanite (who must be back from irrelevance for about the fifth time by now). It’s okay, but it’s only the barest of groundwork for putting together a complete series about the character. Abnett and Lanning tend to hit more than they miss, but they’ve got their work cut out for them. At least they’re aided and abetted by the always-terrific artwork of Amanda Conner.

I may be a bit skeptical, but I’m pulling for this one to succeed. And not just because PG is a babe!

Astro City: The Dark Age vol 3 #1 Astro City: The Dark Age finally continues with the third part of – I think – four. For those who’ve forgotten – and given the series’ publishing schedule (for which the creators frequently apologize) – it focuses on Astro City in the 1970s and 80s, especially a pair of brothers, one a cop, one a small-time hood, who witness and frequently get caught up in the larger events going on during the time.

Kurt Busiek has said that The Dark Age is the story he’d originally come up with as a sequel to Marvels, but when Marvel didn’t seem interested in it, he reworked it for Astro City. And then came up with a sequel for Marvels anyway, the currently-running Eye of the Camera. Unsurprisingly, since the two series cover the same time period, they have a very similar feel, a general bleakness and foreboding which accompanies the outre and often violent heroes and anti-heroes who peppered comic books of the era. Both series also whip through a large number of events, focusing on their characters from time to time, but often leaving me with a feeling that I’ve missed an awful lot and that I’m not getting the careful exploration of the main characters that I’ve come to expect from Busiek’s writing. In both cases, it seems like he’s trying to jam too much into the series, and that’s saying something given the length of The Dark Age.

I’m hoping that The Dark Age will come to some transcendent climax which will justify the series’ length and some of the larger-than-life keynote moments (the SIlver Agent’s death, and the Apollo Eleven team, for instance), while still bring a sense of closure to the brothers’ lives. It’s a tall order, really. Busiek’s one of the very best writers in comics, but I wonder whether he’s bitten off more than he can handle, here.

Fire and Brimstone #5 Richard Moore’s Fire and Brimstone wraps up this week. The story of an angel and a demon who have been tasked with rounding up a collection of demons they accidentally unleashed on the world millennia ago has been little more than a diversion from his on-hiatus series Boneyard, with wacky and sexy hijinks and not a whole lot of a story (the cover to the left sums up the tone of the series rather well). This last issue involves a deity-turned-hitman gunning for our heroines, with a somewhat tried-and-predictable resolution. It’s nice to see Moore’s art in color, but overall the series has been fluff.

The second half of a new Far West story by Moore also came out this week – but I missed the first issue, so I haven’t read it yet. Thumbing through it I see the pencils are un-inked; Moore’s a fine artist, but his stuff looks a lot better when it’s been inked.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910 I was resoundingly unimpressed with the third volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Black Dossier, which seemed mostly like in-joke wankery and had an utterly lame ending. And it got mixed reviews across the Web, as well. Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill are at it again, though, with the first of three volumes of a story called Century.

The Black Dossier took place in the 1950s, and this volume takes place in 1910, 21 years after the first League story, so to some extent we’re catching up with the League as it’s evolved in more-or-less continuous existence since the disastrous encounter with the Martians in volume two. The story mainly follows two threads: Mina Murray and Allan Quatermain‘s team’s quest to stop a wizard from bringing about the end of the world – a chase which leads them down a seemingly blind alley, although the reader knows there’s more going on than meets their eye. And Janni, the daughter of Captain Nemo, coming to England, and eventually taking up the mantle as his successor. In the mix is a series of dockside murders which swirl around Janni’s story and are told partly in song (more allusions to fictional figures of the time, naturally), although it kind of splutters out at the end.

I think it’ll be hard for LoEG to ever recapture the sense of fun and excitement it had in its first volume, mainly because in that one Moore hit the nail squarely on the head with a collection of well-known, yet exotic, characters, and a nifty little puzzle for them and the readers to figure out. In later volumes, the lead characters have gotten more and more obscure, and that’s made elements of the series less interesting to people who don’t want to go to great lengths to figure out who these people are, or who don’t have any particular interest in the characters. (In other words, Carnacki, Raffles and Orlando don’t have quite the cachet of Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo and the Invisible Man) Century: 1910 has the additional problem that it’s just the first part of a three-part story, so it sets up both an over-arching threat, and what will presumably be a significant new character (Nemo’s daughter), but ultimately it’s all set-up. But with the last two chapters taking place in 1969 and 2009, I wonder what it’s going to be set-up for Certainly if Janni and the wizard aren’t major components, it will really diminsh the impact of this volume.

Overall, the story so far works much better than almost all of The Black Dossier did, with more little details that are interesting in and of themselves (such as “the prisoner of London”, which obviously will be showing up again). Also, Kevin O’Neill outdoes himself on the artwork, his characters having more fluidity and a wider variety of facial expressions than he’s employed in the past. While I’ve always appreciated O’Neill’s art for what it was, it’s great to see him evolving it.

I’m hopeful that Century will be a good, solid story when it’s all told. The first volume is encouraging, and I look forward to the rest of it.

This Week’s Haul

  • Final Crisis #2 of 7, by Grant Morrison & J.G. Jones (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #1, by Matt Wagner & Amy Reeder Hadley (DC/Vertigo)
  • Hulk #4, by Jeph Loeb Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines (Marvel)
  • Fire and Brimstone #1 of 3 (?), by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • The Clockwork Girl #4 of 4, by Sean O’Reilly, Kevin Hanna & Grant Bond (Arcana)
  • B.P.R.D.: The Ectoplasmic Man, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse)
  • Project Superpowers #4 of 6, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Carlos Paul (Dynamite)
Final Crisis #2 Final Crisis #2 is getting some great reviews in the blogosphere. Which just goes to show how much tastes differ, since two issues in I’m pretty well bored with the series. Certainly the book being grounded in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters doesn’t help, since as I’ve said before I’ve never found them interesting, and this story has all the hallmarks of yet another scheme by Darkseid.

This issue opens with a tedious sequence in Japan, which nearly put me to sleep during the montage on pages 2 and 3. The rest of the scene felt like a warmed-over scene from one of Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch issues, truly a scene where it felt like Morrison was phoning it in, yet other bloggers enjoyed the scene immensely. This is followed by a series of 1- or 2-page scenes: Terrible Turpin on the trail of some missing kids, a completely pointless triptich page with the JLA at the funeral of the comrade who was killed in issue #1, the villain Libra trying to persuade other villains to join him, and concocting his next scheme.

Then we get to the other extended sequence, in which the JLA, Green Lanterns and an Alpha Lantern investigate the death of the New God Orion, in which the murderer is suggested (using the clichéd “You think you know who it is but their face is obscured you you can’t be sure” mechanism), followed by an encounter between Batman and the apparent link to Darkseid which goes badly for Bats. This sequence would be the high point of the issue if the Darkseid element hadn’t intruded on it, making me lose interest all over again. This leads into another Turpin scene in which he ends up at the villains’ base, which ties the Darkseid threads together, and then a scene with the execution of Libra’s new scheme.

The final scene involves the Flashes (Jay Garrick and Wally West) investigating a clue in Orion’s murder, which leads into the issue’s big reveal and cliffhanger, although one that’s been well-known on the Web for weeks. Unfortunately the natural reaction to this for anyone who’s read many DC comics over the last 15 years is, “What, this again???” A big shrug is in order at this point, along with the thought that there are only 5 issues left, which might be 3 too many.

Final Crisis so far could be summed up as “big ideas writ small”; it’s Morrison taking his “big threats for big heroes” approach to writing JLA and shrinking them down, sucking the drama and excitement and fun out of them, and sprinkling them in small scenes to rob them of any remaining sense of wonder they might have. Artist J.G. Jones is quite good, but his strength are his character renderings, which are far more suitable for a character-and-dialogue-driven book, not a superhero “event” series, which makes the book have a subdued look to go along with its low-impact story.

I can’t figure out what DC Editorial or Grant Morrison were thinking in putting this together. It seems like the best-case scenario for Final Crisis is that the first two issues turn out to be largely superfluous and that the series heads off in some different, more exciting direction for the last 5 issues. But so far this series is making its predecessor Infinite Crisis look like a well-written, well-considered landmark event. It’s bad stuff.

Madame Xanadu #1 Madame Xanadu is the new Vertigo title, whose heroine is an obscure DC character. I picked it up mainly because Matt Wagner is writing it, and because the art by Amy Reeder Hadley looks pretty nifty. I’d expected it would cover some of her backstory but otherwise work with the character in the present day and move her story (whatever it is) forward. However, the whole issue concerns the character’s earliest origins, in which she’s a figure in the King Arthur stories. It’s not a bad story, and the art is quite nice, but these days stories focusing on looking backwards at a character’s past don’t really interest me (I skip Wagner’s Grendel stories featuring the Hunter Rose character for much the same reason). So if that’s all this series is going to be, I’m not going to stick with it for long.
Fire and Brimstone #1 Fire and Brimstone is the new series by Richard Moore, who I guess is taking a break from Boneyard. The premise is that there’s an angel-and-devil due who have been tasked with bringing back to hell a host of demons they inadvertently released into the world millennia ago. Basically, a supernatural odd couple. Moore’s art is spot-on as always, and he’s always a charming writer, but this first issue feels like fluff. Amusing, but lacking the weight of Boneyard or his earlier series, Far West. But maybe Moore will surprise me with the rest of the series.
The Clockwork Girl #4 I was pretty enthusiastic about The Clockwork Girl when it started, but it ended up being much lighter than I’d expected. It focused far more on Huxley the “animal boy” than it did on Tesla the clockwork girl. The concluding issue of the mini-series features a clichéd life-threatening situation, a noble sacrifice, and an improbable reconciliation between the two main characters’ creators. It felt like a mid-grade Disney film, actually. I guess the book is really aimed at kids, and I can see that they might enjoy it, but it didn’t deliver much nuance for adult readers.

Really nice artwork by Grand Bond and Kevin Hanna, though.