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This Week's Haul

In the wake of news that J. Michael Straczynski has bailed out of writing Superman and Wonder Woman due to the success of the Superman: Earth One graphic novel, I’ve decided to drop those books too. I mean, if he can’t commit to finishing the stories he started, why should I commit to finishing reading them? Honestly, though, his Superman was awful, just nonsensical and boring. Wonder Woman was better, but nothing I’m going to miss.

And yes, I skipped Superman: Earth One, too, because, you know, another retelling of Superman’s early days? No thanks.

Oh, and both Batman: The Return and the first issue of Batman Inc. shipped this week, but as I said last week I’ve pretty much gotten the idea where Grant Morrison’s Batman work at DC is concerned (quirky, yet dull and characterization-free), so I decided the end of The Return of Bruce Wayne was the end of it for me, and I passed on both those issues.

  • DC Universe: Legacies #7 of 10, by Len Wein, Scott Kolins, Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway & Brian Bolland (DC)
  • The Flash #6, by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul (DC)
  • Green Lantern #59, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Green Lantern Corps #54, by Tony Bedard, Tyler Kirkham & Batt (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #7, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Wayne Faucher & Francis Portela (DC)
  • Power Girl #18, by Judd Winick & Sami Basri (DC)
  • Zatanna #7, by Adam Beechen, Chad Hardin & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #4 of 4, by David Petersen, Craig Rousseau, Karl Kerschl & Mark Smylie (Archaia)
  • Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil, by Mike Mignola & Richard Corben (Dark Horse)
  • Grandville: Mon Amour HC, by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse)
  • Morning Glories #4, by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma (Image)
  • Ghost Projekt #5 of 5, by Joe Harris & Steve Rolston (Oni)
  • The Sixth Gun #6, by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni)
Speaking of series I’m dropping, this is it for me and The Flash. Geoff Johns’ writing has been okay, but the title, “The Dastardly Death of the Rogues”, had very little to do with the actual story (only one “Rogue” died, and he wasn’t even the real deal), and the plot felt rather recycled (time travel, changing history, etc.). And as I’ve said before, I haven’t been at all convinced by Johns’ handling of Barry Allen returning to his old life and job after what must have been 5 or 10 years of time in Central City, with little questioning from his colleagues and friends as to where he’s been. The adventure has been a decent romp, but it didn’t really hang together.

But the thing that’s really driving me away is Francis Manapul’s artwork, which is sketchy, simplistic, makes many of the characters look like teenagers, is short on backgrounds, and features some really bland layouts. His art has been getting rave reviews from some corners, which frankly astonishes me, but diff’rent strokes, I guess. It just hasn’t worked for me at all, and his name on a book will be a big caution sign for me in the future.

Maybe down the road I’ll regret dropping this series so soon, as I did Johns’ previous resurrected hero’s series, Green Lantern. But at least that series had top-notch artwork, even if it got off to a slow start. There’s really nothing that appeals to me about this Flash series.

And speaking of Green Lantern that series is still dealing with Hal Jordan trying to hold together an alliance of the seven colored ring corps as they try to track down the seven avatars of the corps. Since some of the corps are outright villains, this is a tough group to manage, and this issue focuses largely on Flash trying to talk some sense into GL that perhaps he should be turning to his earthbound friends – no slouches themselves in the power department – rather than the murderous Red Lanterns or the avaricious Larfleeze, the Orange Lantern.

The problem with this story is that Flash is absolutely right, and the set-up smells strongly of Johns being just too in love with the idea of a rainbow lantern corps that he’s making GL behave out of character in order to keep the idea going. While an alliance between the Green (will) and Blue (hope) corps, and maybe even the Star Sapphires (love) makes some sense, working with Larfleeze or the Red Lanterns is borderline-insane. And frankly the fact that bad things happen at the end of this issue are the natural consequences of GL not listening to reason. It makes the story difficult to believe in.

I think the premise is supposed to be that the Blackest Night changed the status quo among all the ring corps, but it doesn’t really hold up: Absent a clear-and-present danger (and the avatars don’t really present one), it’s hard to believe that these corps would work together and ignore their natural impulses. And at some point the series is going to have to deal with the presence of several thousand rings of each color flying around the galaxy, because otherwise it’s going to lead to everything being destroyed. Johns has raised the power level too high without really considering where that’s going to lead, and having it lead somewhere else makes the story less and less plausible.

Let’s move on to some good stuff: Grandville: Mon Amour is (you guessed it) the sequel to Bryan Talbot’s anthropomorphic alternate-history scientific-romance thriller (whew!) that I read earlier this year. The setting is Britain and France in the present day, but a world where France conquered Europe under Napoleon, and Britain has only recently won its independence. Detective-Inspector LeBrock is one of Scotland Yard’s best investigators, and was recently involved in an escapade which resulted in the death of the French Emperor, as well as the death of a woman he loved. But he’s pulled out of his misery by the escape of “Mad Dog” Mastock, a former revolutionary who later became a deadly serial killer, whom LeBrock apprehended several years ago. Mastock escapes from prison on the day of his execution, and LeBrock is forced to resign from the Yard in order to pursue him. As before, LeBrock and his partner Detective Ratzi follow Mastock back to Grandville (which I believe is Paris) to find out what he’s up to and to bring him down. As in the first book, the case will change the course of nations.

Oh yeah, and all the characters are human-sized animals: LeBrock is a badger, Ratzi’s a rat, and there are dogs, cats, rams, pigs, and various other creatures. Plus a few humans, who are a lower-class oddity in this world. Other than very muted undertones of racial differences, Talbot doesn’t really do much with the different species in the book, but it does make the work visually different. But I found it perfectly easy to ignore the anthropomorphic renderings and just enjoy the story for what it is.

And it is a very good story, as Talbot – as he always does – has meticulously worked out the setting and characters of his story, and sumptuously renders every panel. It’s really a beautiful work (as was the first volume). The story is a page-turner, too, with a smashing climax (although there’s an extra layer of discoveries to be made at the end which I felt was a little too much, but it’s not a big deal). While I haven’t read everything Talbot has done, I’ve read a lot of it, and his writing and art have gotten consistently better with time. I hope he’s planning to continue doing Grandville volumes, because the first two have been great. If any of the elements I’ve described in the story appeal to you, I suggest you check it out.

(You can see a preview of the volume here. Note especially that the interior art is much lusher than the relatively flat cover to the left.)

Two Oni comics stories wrap up this week. Ghost Projekt has been an excellent 5-issue miniseries about Will Haley, an American weapons inspector working in Russia, who teams up with with Anya Romanova, a Russian agent, to learn the secret of the Cold War Project Dosvidanya, whose former members have been turning up dead. It was a nifty combination of the post-Cold War Russian setting and a fantasy/horror plot. The payoff is pretty good, although there’s a development at the end involving Anya which I didn’t understand – I think I’ve forgotten a plot detail somewhere. I also appreciated that the story has a climax, and then several pages of denouement trying up loose ends – too many stories these days forget how important that part is.

Steve Rolston‘s art is simple but extremely effective; his style feels like it comes from doing comic strips, but he does a great job drawing the darker stuff, too. It gives the story a cheerful veneer without compromising the seriousness of the story – it’s an approach you wouldn’t see much from one of the major publishers.

I hope there will be a sequel series, because this was a lot of fun.

The other series that’s been a lot of fun is The Sixth Gun, which could easily have been a 6-issue miniseries, but apparently it’s continuing beyond this issue. Hooray! I’ve gushed about the series before, which involves supernatural guns in the Wild West, an insane Confederate General trying to bring about the apocalypse, and the handful of men (and the woman who inherits the General’s gun) trying to stop them. This issue has the big showdown with the General and his men, and it’s a good one, with some pretty awesome moments during the big battle. I don’t think it’s a surprise (since the series continues on) that the good guys prevail, although certainly there’s room for the General to return.

I’m curious to see where Bunn & Hurtt take the series next, after this climax. I could see them jumping the story forward in time, or they might continue the current narrative – if the latter, I hope they start to focus a little more on the characters since they should have more time to let them grow a bit.

This Week's Haul

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least they’re honest in the opening credits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week's Haul

A big week this week, and it turns out this month, not last month, is Dan Jurgens’ last hurrah on Booster Gold.

  • Booster Gold #32, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Brightest Day #0, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin & many inkers (DC)
  • Fables #94, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Flash #1, by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul (DC)
  • The Unwritten #12, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Secret Six #20, by Gail Simone & Jim Calafiore (DC)
  • Powers #4, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • Irredeemable Special #1, by Mark Waid, Paul Azaceta, Emma Rios & Howard Chaykin (Boom)
  • B.P.R.D.: King of Fear #4 of 5, by ike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor #1 of 5, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • Chew #10, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
  • Atomic Robo and the Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #2 of 5, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
Chris Sims rips Brightest Day #0 a new one in his review column this week. I think he’s a little harsh, but only a little; this is not a good comic book.

The conclusion of Blackest Night showcased the return from death of a dozen DC heroes and villains, including Deadman who, well, is supposed to be dead. Brightest Day is supposedly going to explore why they came back to life. I think the hope is that they’ll capture some of the fun of 52, the weekly series from a few years ago, which was hands-down DC’s best weekly series so far. This issue is the lead-in to that, and it’s basically just Deadman – thanks to the white ring on his finger – checking in on each of the other characters who came back to life. Which means it’s one little character piece after another – bits which might work well enough as an aside in a character’s regular series, but which strung together like this make for one pretty tedious issue.

Worse, this is a continuity-laden comic featuring characters with convoluted backstories. Okay, Hawkman at this point is firmly grounded in his convoluted backstory, it’s basically a key part of the character, and honestly that’s not such a bad thing, since the core premise is easy to explain (Hawkman and his beloved Hawkgirl have been getting reincarnated for thousands of years) and the details are unimportant. Sims points out the problem with all this continuity without really trying to do so:

Take Firestorm. Johns and Tomasi make it clear that Ronnie Raymond is meant to be back from the dead from the moment he died in Identity Crisis. So why does he act like he did thirty years ago? Why did he ask where Professor Stein is, when Stein hadn’t been part of Firestorm for years at that point? Why does Ronnie, a recovering alcoholic, blow off Gehenna’s funeral to go to a kegger? And why, if the union between Jason and Ronnie is meant to be the new version of Firestorm, as seen on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, does Ronnie get control of the body? Well, I know the answer to that one: Because if Firestorm still had the body of a black man, he wouldn’t look like he did in 1978.

Firestorm died in Identity Crisis? I read that piece of trash, but I’d forgotten that. Ronnie’s a recovering alcoholic? Firestorm’s tying in somehow to the Brave and the Bold cartoon? Yeesh, this is all the sort of BS that needs to get sliced away and discarded (or else I’ll be trying to figure out why Firestorm isn’t still a fire elemental, like John Ostrander revealed him to be), the sort of thing Geoff Johns did well in Green Lantern, picking the pieces he wanted to play with and ignoring the rest. You can repeat this for most of the other characters herein, and then there are some new bits that make no sense at all (Aquaman being reluctant to go into the water, for example).

There’s some potential here, but the cast is too large, and this is really a horrible lead-in to the series. My guess it that it will be better than Countdown to Final Crisis (it could hardly be worse), but not anywhere near as good as 52 was.

On the art side, Fernando Pasarin’s art is pretty solid, though unspectacular. This seems to be DC’s house style these days: Clean, solidly-rendered, judicious use of shadows, lots of details, somewhat generic faces and expressions. More than a little evocative of George Pérez and Dan Jurgens, without being as distinctive as either. (Nicola Scott and Ivan Reis are similar.)

I might try the first couple of issues, but Brightest Day will have to come out of the gate strong (assuming that this issue is it just getting into the gate) for me to keep reading.

On the other hand, I think Sims is far too kind to the new Flash series. He is right about this: Bringing back Barry Allen was completely unnecessary, especially as Wally West has been such a great Flash for the last quarter of a century (wow, has it really been that long?). Then again, bringing back Hal Jordan as Green Lantern was not exactly essential either, and that’s worked out well. The difference is that Barry’s death occurred at the lowest point in the character’s creative history, and he died heroically in a much-beloved series (Crisis on Infinite Earths), whereas Hal was killed off awkwardly after becoming a villain for no good reason, so bringing Barry back actually cheapens his death (and his return hasn’t been handled with anywhere near the style of the other resurrected hero whose return has previously been verboten – Ed Brubaker bringing back Bucky in Captain America was orders of magnitude better than this, as I said last week).

But, Barry’s back, and he’s been given a new series, and that’s how it goes.

In any event, this issue is no better than Brightest Day above. To start with, this story is just bogged down in continuity, explicit or implied: The Flash has been dead, and presumably everyone knows that, but now he’s back. And so is Barry Allen, but it’s unclear whether everyone knows that the two are the same guy, and you’d pretty much have to be an idiot not to have figured it out, if you knew Barry personally. Johns blurred the line in Green Lantern about whether everyone knew who Hal was – you could almost believe that everyone did know, and just didn’t care – but here it seems like all of Barry’s friends are idiots. (Never mind that his wife Iris had disappeared for years, too, and came back, and then apparently got 20 years younger. Good trick, that.) Johns wants to push past all the getting-back-to-his-life stuff and get to the story, but I just don’t buy it, especially since Barry and Iris were the stereotypical midwest, middle-American couple, living in a cute little ranch home and working their day jobs, and that life is so far from where the characters are starting now, it’s impossible to credit.

The plot involves one of Flash’s villains (of his so-called Rogues Gallery) showing up dead – only it doesn’t seem to be him. It’s just the barest hint of the story, so there’s not much to review there (though there’s atwist on the last two pages), but most of the issue is given over to Barry getting back to his life. And that’s a yawn-fest.

The big knock against the issue is the art: Francis Manapul was just good enough on Jim Shooter’s recently Legion of Super-Heroes run with his uninspiring “Image-esque” style helped by some clean linework, but his style here is a lot more cartoony and sketchy, and I think it just looks awful. The characters all look kind of childlike, with indistinguishable faces (which look deformed whenever the panel is composed looking up at the face), the inks look more like pencils, there are unnecessary speed lines everywhere (yes, even for The Flash they’re unnecessary), and on top of that the colors look washed out. I almost passed on this series because of Manapul’s presence alone, and this first issue makes me think I should’ve gone with my first instinct. (I’m not really sure who I think they should have gotten to draw the series. Ethan Van Scyver was not a great choice in The Flash: Rebirth, even though I like his art a lot better. Dan Jurgens doesn’t have the right dynamism. But the series needs to look more grown-up and solid than the look Manapul gives it here. Norm Breyfogle might have brought the series a similar look but more weight – he did a good job on the criminally-overlooked miniseries Flashpoint ten years ago.)

Flash after one issue has all the indications of being a train wreck. To be sure, Green Lantern got off to a very slow start, but at least it had lovely artwork to fall back on. Flash needs to get much better on all fronts very quickly for me to care enough to stick around.

Is John Byrne doing the best Star Trek comics of the last 20 years, or the best Star Trek comics ever? It sure is hard to tell. Other than the quirky and unsatisfying Assignment: Earth series, every Byrne Trek comic at IDW has been pitch-perfect, wonderfully illustrated stuff exploring the fringes of the original cast milieu. Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor follows the irascible surgeon as he embarks on a voyage to the Federation frontier to help people with his skills, in the period between classic Trek and the first feature film, so it’s a medium for Byrne to spin a few clever science fiction yarns. Less ambitious than his Romulans series, but that’s hardly a problem as Crew had a similar approach, and I think that’s the best of his series yet.

If I have a criticism it’s that his rendering of the good doctor seem slightly off to me. Granted, McCoy’s got a full beard here (as he did when he first appeared in The Motion Picture), but something about his eyes and his mouth make him appear a little older and grumpier than even he ought to. Still, the issue as a whole is fun stuff, and I’m looking forward to the rest.

(I wonder if Byrne has aspirations of doing a truly epic Trek series at IDW at some point, something on a grander scale than even the Romulans story? That’s be something to see.)

This month’s issue of Atomic Robo and the Revenge of the Vampire Dimension doesn’t feature any vampires, nor any dimensions (well, other than the usual three). It does feature Atomic Robo and also revenge, although the revenge isn’t by vampires. False advertising?

Anyway, this one takes place in Japan and is yet another homage to Japanese monster movies, which means (this being Atomic Robo) it involves a lot of smashing, interspersed with snarky remarks by Robo. It’s a pretty good issue, actually, but sameness is starting to set in to Atomic Robo I’ve been hoping that writer Brian Clevinger would start pulling together Robo’s long backstory (he was created by Nikola Tesla) into a larger drama, but it’s basically one slugfest after another. The previous volume, Shadow From Beyond Time, was the best one yet precisely because it was a carefully-laid-out story arc, but Revenge of the Vampire Dimension reverts to the one-offs of the previous two volumes.

This could be such a great series, and it’s really frustrating that it can’t rise above the level of lightweight adventure stuff.

This Week's Haul

  • Batman and Robin #9, by Grant Morrison & Cameron Stewart (DC)
  • Blackest Night #7 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • The Flash: Rebirth #6 of 6, by Geoff Johns, Ethan Van Scyver & Scott Hanna (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #36, by Bill Willingham, Jesus Merino & Jesse Delperdang (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #20, by Matt Wagner, Joëlle Jones & David Hahn (DC/Vertigo)
  • Victorian Undead #4 of 6, by Ian Edginton, Davide Fabbri & Tom Mandrake (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Avengers: The Korvac Saga HC, by Jim Shooter, Len Wein, Roger Stern, David Michelinie, George Pérez, Sal Buscema, David Wenzel, Klaus Janson, Pablo Marcos & others (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #576, by Jonathan Hickman & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • The Marvels Project #6 of 8, by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • Irredeemable #11, by Mark Waid, Peter Krause & Diego Barreto (Boom)
This month’s Batman and Robin is hands-down the best issue of the series so far. Overlooking the rather obvious solution to getting the critically-injured Batwoman out of the cave where the two Batmen fought last issue (ah, the joys of a readily-available deus ex machina), Morrison manages to pull off everything he tries here: The faux Batman returns to Gotham and faces off with Robin, who’s recovering from a spine transplant (!). The impostor speaks in broken English with a mix of old and new styles of Batman jargon, and is gradually decaying as the story goes on. Robin and Alfred put up a stiff fight (always nice to see Alfred show he’s more than just a butler), and then Batman and Batwoman show up to put things away. Robin gets a justified jab in at Batman’s behavior at the end. And Cameron Stewart’s art is outstanding, the finest the series has yet seen (I hate the hair style he and Frank Quitely have saddled Dick Grayson with, though). For a change, I liked this issue better than Greg Burgas did.

The series has been something of a mess so far, because Morrison spends too much time messing around with either peripheral elements, or with the “bigger picture” of what’s going on in the Batman universe, even though that bigger picture is rather silly. (Consider, after all, the Batman here doesn’t even wonder who might have put a fake body – which managed to fool Superman – in place of the original Batman.) If he could just focus on the relationship between Batman and Robin, this would be a much better series.

The delayed finale of The Flash: Rebirth shows up this week. Although Ethan Van Scyver’s artwork is always nice to see (though it seems much less detailed here than usual), this has been a rather pedestrian story all around, certainly not nearly as good as the last time Geoff Johns brought a hero back from the dead. Of course, Green Lantern: Rebirth had to explain why Hal Jordan went bad so he could return to being a hero, whereas Barry Allen has been sainted by DC heroes and fanboys for decades now, so this story was just about giving him a threat big enough to reinstate him among the DC pantheon. And Johns pulls in all the usual Flash tropes, most of them (naturally enough) from Mark Waid’s remarkable run on the title: The Reverse-Flash, the extended Flash family, and the Speed Force. He throws in a retcon where Barry’s father was arrested for the murder of his mother, and a bit of time travel involving the beginning of Barry’s career, but it’s otherwise a pretty routine modern-day Flash story, actually not up to the standards of Johns’ own run on Wally West’s series.

To be fair, a friend of mine described Johns’ Green Lantern relaunch shortly after it began as “the least necessary relaunch in comics”, and it ended up being considerably more interesting than that. With an ongoing Flash series on the way, Johns may be able to work similar magic there. But this isn’t a promising start.

Why do I get the feeling that we’re finally getting to the Justice Society of America story that Bill Willingham really wanted to tell? The last several issues have been nothing more than a fairly stupid way to split the JSA into two teams, getting (mostly) the marginal members into the JSA All-Stars series (where they can be safely ignored) and paring the core team down to manageable levels. Here we jump right into the story – 20 years in the future, where Mr. Terrific is imprisoned by a new regime which has captured and is executing the JSA members. He’s dictating his memoir, expecting his own end to come soon, explaining how the new regime came into power, with a group of Nazi-oriented villains attacking the JSA and killing Green Lantern.

It’s not like we haven’t seen set-ups like this before, but Willingham seems to enjoy and excel at telling war stories, so even if this ends up being resolved through the miracle of time travel, it could still be fun.

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #21, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Fables #85, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Tony Akins, Andrew Pepoy & Dan Green (DC/Vertigo)
  • The Flash: Rebirth #3 of 5, by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Scyver (DC)
  • JSA vs. Kobra #1 of 6, by Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • The Unwritten #2, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel TPB, by Kevin Grevioux, Mat Broome, Roberto Castro, Sean Parsons, Álvaro López & Lorenzo Ruggiano (Marvel)
  • The Unknown #2 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Unthinkable #2 of 5, by Mark Sable & Julian Totino Tedesco (Boom)
  • B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #3, by John Arcudi & Karl Moline (Dark Horse)
  • The Life and Times of Savior 28 #3, by J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Cavallaro (IDW)
The Flash: Rebirth #3 The Flash: Rebirth gets downright silly in this issue: Barry is the new Black Flash, a sort of reaper of people tied to the Speed Force, which was one of the dumber ideas from the Grant Morrison/Mark Millar fill-in sequence during Mark Waid’s run a decade or so ago. Since Barry’s presence threatens the lives of the other speedsters, he decides to return to the Speed Force (basically committing suicide), but of course as he gets there we find out that an old enemy seems to be mixed up in the proceedings. This is all amazingly trite, seemingly sending this series on the fast track (ha!) to irrelevance.

The issue’s best moment is when it evokes memories of the old “Who’s faster, Superman or the Flash?” races, when Supes tries to stop Flash, saying that he’d won some of their past races. Flash replies, “Those were for charity, Clark”, and takes off faster than Superman can even see.

In a better story, scenes like that would be an “Oh, that’s clever” moment to lighten the drama, but that it’s actually one of the high points is a little depressing. There are some hints that there’s a little more going on here, but only hints, so far. Unfortunately, Rebirth continues to be dogged by the fact that there just wasn’t any good reason to bring Barry back from the dead, especially as Wally has filled his shoes so ably. There wasn’t a real good reason to bring Hal Jordan back as Green Lantern, either, but in that case Johns constructed a clever story explaining why things had gone bad in the first place, and why he could come back and resume his previous role. That sort of explanation is sorely missing here, at least so far.

JSA vs. Kobra #1 JSA vs. Kobra is a mini-series pitting the superhero team against an extraordinary terrorist groups that’s been running around the DC Universe for decades, the rationale for the confrontation being that Mr. Terrific is not just a JSAer, he’s also the White King of the government organization Checkmate, which I guess has a history with Kobra. Nonetheless, my impression is that this is one of the least-necessary mini-series of recent years, as Kobra is a group whose day came and went about, oh, thirty years ago. The first issue involves Kobra embarking on several missions which seem to be misdirection to keep the JSA ignorant of what they’re really up to.

The art seems weirdly stiff. Don Kramer’s pencils seem okay, though rather subdued, but I suspect it’s a combination of Michael Babinski’s inks and the weirdly painterly coloring job by Art Lyon that give it a frozen look and feel. There are books their combined style could work with, but a superhero title isn’t it, I think.

The second issue will have to be a big step up, or this is one mini-series I might not even get to the end of.

Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel TPB I missed most of Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel when it came out, so I picked up the paperback this week. The premise is very similar to The Sentry as he was first presented: A silver age Superman-like hero disappears at the height of his career, and today he’s barely remembers, but today’s heroes have to find him when his greatest enemy reappears and no one else can stop him.

The main difference is that the Sentry was mentally disturbed and his enemy was actually a manifestation of the dark side of his mind, while the Blue Marvel is a black man who was asked by President Kennedy to step down once his identity became known. The other difference is the the Sentry’s existence was wiped from everyone’s memory, even though he was friends with practically everyone in the Marvel Universe, while the Blue Marvel operated before today’s heroes came on the scene, so to them he’s a legend, practically a myth.

Both are good series, although overall I think The Sentry was a better series, because his background was more complex and more personally tragic, and his interactions with the other heroes made his story more nuanced. The Blue Marvel has to carry his book on his own, and he’s a little too generic a character to pull it off: A little downtrodden, but also a through-and-through hero who always does the right thing regardless of the circumstances. The indignant reactions of Iron Man and others to how he was treated 45 years ago are very heavy-handed. The book’s heart is in the right place, but it ends up feeling rather lightweight, and the tragic moment during the climax feels unnecessary and disappointing.

It seems that Mat Broome was replaced by Roberto Castro part-way through, and I don’t think Castro’s style works very well following up on Broome’s polished pencils. It’s too bad Broome couldn’t do the whole series.

In a way, Adam is one of the more ambitious superhero books from Marvel in a while, but I don’t think Kevin Grevioux quite got it all to work. It’s an interesting effort, though, and I don’t regret giving it a try.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Flash: Rebirth #1 of 5, by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Sciver (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #25, by Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Avengers/Invaders #9 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Steve Sadowski & Patrick Berkenkotter (Marvel)
  • War of Kings #2 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Irredeemable #1, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom!)
  • The Boys #29, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Star Trek: Crew #2 of 6, by John Byrne (IDW)
The Flash: Rebirth #1 I remarked a while back that Green Lantern was looking like Geoff Johns’ best work in comics, going back to his bringing Hal Jordan back from the dead (or the undead) in a clever and satisfying way. Now he’s trying to do the same by picking up the thread of Barry Allen – the Silver Age Flash – coming back from the dead in Final Crisis. This is a much tougher challenge, partly because Flash’s death was a heroic send-off for a character who at the time had seen his series cancelled for cause, while Green Lantern was brought down largely by editorial fiat. But also because Johns doesn’t get to construct the reason for Flash coming back, like he did for Green Lantern, and that makes The Flash: Rebirth a tough sell.

The story is okay: People other than Flash are emerging from the Speed Force, even as Flash takes in the changes in the world while he’s been gone, and watching others celebrate his return. There are some nice touches (Flash approves of how everyone’s multitasking all the time, as if they’re finally catching up to how he lives his whole life), but they’re overshadowed by what a dour sourpuss Barry is through the whole issue, focused on needing to get things done (“I can’t be late.” “Late for what?” “For whatever the rest of the world needs me for.”), without explanation for what that might be.

There’s a suggestion that Barry feels guilty over his mother’s death, that he somehow wasn’t fast enough to be there for her (especially since his father was accused of the crime), which indicates that Johns is going to be retroactively filling in details of Barry’s pre-Flash life. But the tone of the character feels completely at odds with who he was before his death, and given the commonality of heroes coming back from the dead in the DC universe, his mere return doesn’t suffice as an explanation.

As for the GL relaunch, the artist is Ethan Van Sciver. Van Sciver is a very detail- and rendering-oriented artist, but not the most dynamic of layout guys. Overall I like his art, but I find him a somewhat odd choice for a character as dynamic as the Flash. He evokes a feeling of speed and dynamism through “after-image” effects, copious lightning bolts, and dramatic poses. It’s not bad art by any means, but I don’t think he’s nearly as good a match for Flash as he was for GL.

There’s some interesting stuff here – mostly what’s going on with the Speed Force – but mostly the issue feels like a misfire, not really capturing what it was that made the character interesting. Certainly Barry Allen was rarely a deep character and there’s going to be some updating to give him more nuance for a modern audience, but I don’t think Johns really captured the core of the character here and that makes me wonder why he’s bothering.

Of course, I wondered why DC bothered to bring him back in the first place. But as part of the whole Final Crisis mess, at this point I assume there wasn’t really any sort of planning or intent involved.

Irredeemable #1 Ironically, the other comic I’m reviewing this week is written by the guy who’s probably most associated with the post-Barry Allen Flash franchise: Mark Waid.

So first, a digression: Grant Morrison pens the afterward to Ireedeemable #1, in which he professes surprise that Waid’s reputation is one that seems inextricably linked to nostalgia for the Silver Age and an encyclopedic knowledge of comics history. I profess such surprise myself, since that’s never been my image of Waid as a writer. (A better match for such a profile would be Geoff Johns, actually.) While Waid clearly knows his stuff where comics history and trivia is concerned (he’s noted for being unstumpable in trivia panels at comics conventions), Waid’s actual writing career has been marked by a strong focus on the current characters, and making them into first-rate heroes and villains in their own rights. This is especially evident in the keynote story of his career, “The Return of Barry Allen”, which was all about Wally West living in the shadow of his late mentor, but emerging from that shadow to become his own man.

A better summary of Waid’s career might be that he considers at length what the nature of superheroics means to the heroes themselves, and how they are defined or changed by the experience. In this way he’s not so different from Kurt Busiek – which puts him in outstanding company, I’d say.

Irredeemable seems like a natural step after his series Empire: In Empire, a villain managed to defeat all the heroes and now rules the world. In Irredeemable, the Plutonian – a Superman stand-in – suddenly turns villainous and starts killing off his former allies. Besides being dark stories, what really ties these two series together is that they’re both character dramas, with suspense both in the front-and-center storyline, and in the revelation of how things got to this point. Irredeemable suggests that it’s the little derisive comments and gradual feeling of not being appreciated that pushed the Plutonian over the line, but I expect there’s more to it than that. And what makes it really creepy is that his one-time friends and allies don’t really know anything about him (“Is he even from Earth?” “We don’t know.”).

So at worst I expect this will be a rousing chase in which the remaining heroes try to stay alive, even as they find out who the Plutonian really is and why he went bad. To some extent the artistic success of the series will depend on that revelation being sufficiently novel, although it could certainly succeed by having a strong enough character grounding rather than clever mystery reveals. I’m a little optimistic about it than is Don MacPherson, but his review is worth a read, too.

Artist Peter Krause has that solid, muscle-bound style a la Dan Jurgens, but he manages to pull off the dark scenes as well as the bright ones. He’s a solid artist, although he skimps on the backgrounds a little too much for my tastes.

Bottom line: Irredeemable feels of-a-piece with Waid’s previous work, it’s just on the darker side rather than the lighter side, and it’s an enjoyable thriller and I’m looking forward to see what happens next.

And honestly, if anyone really sees Waid as little more than the preserver of the shiny heroes of the Silver Age, then, honestly, they haven’t been reading his works very deeply.