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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week's Haul

Two weeks at once again, I’m afraid. Between fantasy baseball, work, taxes, the last two ultimate frisbee games of the season, and preparing for an upcoming vacation, I haven’t had much time to keep up with the journal.

Last week:

  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Four #3 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC)
  • Blackest Night #8 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #37, by Bill Willingham, Jesus Merino & Jesse Delperdang (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #21, by Matt Wagner & Amy Reeder Hadley (DC/Vertigo)
  • Captain America: Winter Soldier ultimate collection TPB, by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Michael Lark, John Paul Leon, Mike Perkins & Tom Palmer (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #577, by Jonathan Hickman & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #4, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
  • RASL #7, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)

This week:

  • Batman and Robin #11, by Grant Morrison, Andy Clarke & Scott Hanna (DC)
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. #1, by Jonathan Hickman & Dustin Weaver (Marvel)
  • The Boys #41, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Invincible Returns #1, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, Cory Walker & Cliff Rarthburn (Image)
Last week was the conclusion to DC’s big event comic of the past year, Blackest Night. I’ve written extensively about it along the way, and the conclusion didn’t really change my mind. In sum, it was a coherent story, essentially an outgrowth of ongoing themes in Green Lantern, but went on for far too long given that it was ultimately a fairly typical “save the universe” superhero yarn. Damning it with faint praise? Well, as I’ve also said, compared to other event comics from DC over the last few years, Blackest Night seems downright brilliant, staying away from convoluted continuity (in fact, Johns has largely ignored inconvenient continuity in his Green Lantern run in favor of building his own mythos, and the series has been the better for it) and portraying the heroes as being actual heroes, not trying to make them more “mature” or whatever Identity Crisis (which was pure trash as a series) was trying to do.

This final issue shows GL and his partners taking down the villain, and finding that the spirit of life in the universe has given them a gift returning a number of long-time heroes (and a few villains) to the land of the living. (I’d suspected that was how this was going to play out back at the beginning of the series.) This isn’t exactly a boon for some of the characters – just for starters, a hero named Deadman probably shouldn’t be returned to life, eh? – and I guess this will lead into DC’s next bi-weekly series, Brightest Day (which I’m on the fence about picking up).

In addition to all this, Blackest Night is something of a buddy story, bringing Flash and Green Lantern together again, remembering old friends, reclaiming their positions in the top tier of DC’s pantheon of heroes by defeating this big baddie. This issue winds down with the two of them standing over Batman’s grave and realizing that Bruce Wayne is still alive, and wondering what’s next for them all. Not a bad way to end the series.

And wow, that cover sure is gorgeous! Ivan Reis does a bang-up job on the interior art, too. He’s still got that tinge of “classic Image style” to his pencils which is a bit off-putting, but he’s been getting better and better. I hope he goes back to drawing GL again now that this series is over.

Essential reading Blackest Night might not be, and as it’s mainly been driven by Geoff Johns’ own vision I don’t think it reflects much on what DC’s future event comics might be like. But it’s been pretty good.

I completely missed out on Ed Brubaker’s Captain America when it started. To be sure, Cap was in the doldrums when it began, having gone through several relaunches of his title, none of them since Mark Waid’s first run really having worked. (The John Ney Rieber/John Cassaday run looks pretty, but that’s about it.) And I’d never heard of Brubaker before, so why sign on to yet another new Cap series?

But having discovered Brubaker through his independent work (Incognito, Criminal, Sleeper), and knowing that Steve Epting is a top-notch artist, the release of the Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection seemed like a fine time to start catching up on what I’d missed.

What I’d missed was Brubaker really, truly doing what’s been verboten at Marvel for decades: Bringing back Cap’s deceased partner Bucky Barnes. (I don’t really count Peter David’s jokey hint of doing so in Incredible Hulk years ago.) But Brubaker pulls it off, making Bucky a tragic figure whose history since World War II has been anything but happy and heroic. Winter Soldier follows Cap learning about Bucky’s existence thanks to his friends at S.H.I.E.L.D., and a powerful businessman who’s employing a former Soviet operative code-named the Winter Soldier as a hit-man and bodyguard. Okay, it doesn’t take much to figure out what’s really going on here from all that, but Brubaker is such a good writer that he weaves in Cap’s own personal crisis (this story occurs shortly after the original Avengers disbanded), international intrigue, the death of a minor supporting character, and the complex story of Bucky’s survival into a seamless whole. It works astoundingly well, and has me interested in more.

Of course I know where Cap’s gone over the last few years since this story, what with Civil War and (ahem) The Death of Captain America, but Brubaker’s got me won over that I want to read how he handles it. Winter Soldier might be a little too heavy for someone not already a Cap fan, but if you’re reasonably familiar with Cap’s own history, then this one is highly recommended.


I’m not sure what to make on Jonathan Hickman’s series for Marvel. Fantastic Four has been contemplative, not really action-oriented at all, and we’re now 3/4ths of the way through an “arc” in which the FF are being exposed to new exotic groups of creatures: Highly-evolved subterraneans, high-tech underwater beings, and now non-human inhumans. (The sequence is titled “Prime Elements”, so the three groups shown so far presumably represent earth, water and air.) It feels like it’s purely set-up for future stories, but it’s all so far-ranging it’s hard to see how it will all tie together. Meanwhile, the individual issues have not been particularly good, with little tension or conflict or character studies. It’s been rather dull, actually.

And now there’s the ongoing title S.H.I.E.L.D., which seems to only tangentially relate to the classic Nick Fury organization. Instead it features historic figures saving the world – Galileo facing Galactus, for example. The conceit is briefly amusing, but an ongoing series? Really? In the 1950s we have a man who seems to have Captain Marvel’s cosmic awareness joining the group, when his father shows up and faces Agents Richards and Stark. All these details make it seem like the series is taking place in one or more alternate universes, because shoehorning all this stuff into the existing Marvel Universe seems somewhere between pointless and impossible. And again, the story is more thoughtful than exciting, and it’s hard to get enthused about it.

Hickman’s artistic partners are quite good, but the writing just isn’t doing it for me. Exploring the unexplored backwaters of a nearly-50-year-old universe needs to be a lot more gripping and relevant than this to hold my interest. Hickman needs to punch up the excitement factor, because his efforts at cultivating a sense of wonder aren’t working.

This Week's Haul

Late once again. Then again, it was a tiny week, with three penultimate chapters coming out. Plus I hear Gray, Palmiotti and Conner will be leaving Power Girl after #12.

  • Green Lantern #51, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Rebecca Buchman & Keith Champagne (DC)
  • Power Girl #10, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Victorian Undead #5 of 6, by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri (DC/Wildstorm)
  • The Marvels Project #7 of 8, by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Marvel)
Blackest Night is about to finish up, and this week’s Green Lantern brings us to the edge. I gotta say that despite not being a very compelling story, mechanically Johns and company have done a good job of telling the event across three books: Green Lantern followed Hal Jordan putting together the new “rainbow guardians”, Green Lantern Corps showed the Corps trying to deal with the universe-wide zombie outbreak, and Blackest Night showed Earth’s heroes fighting zombies, as the villains gradually revealed themselves and their plan. You could almost read just a single comic and follow what’s happening, which is unusual in a braided story like this.

The story’s developed into one about death vs. life, which an attempt to show that the villain Nekron’s point of view, trying to wipe out all life to return the universe to its peaceful state before life developed. Meanwhile, longtime GL villain Sinestro has been imbued with the power of the white avatar of life, which has been hiding inside the Earth for billions of years, which explains why Earth is a focal point for attention from aliens and why it’s developed so many super-heroes.

The larger story has been pretty ho-hum so far (zombies, more zombies, and the cosmic balance at stake), and the assembling of the rainbow guardians has been downright silly (I guess Hal’s going to try to keep them together after the series ends, which seems even sillier). The best bits have been certain characters either exorcising their demons (John Stewart has some unfortunate events in his past which he’s been working through here) or seeking redemption (Sinestro, who of course we can’t entirely trust with his new-found powers). Overall it has been the most readable of DC’s event series of recent years, but it has been rather overblown compared to what the story ended up being.

It wraps up tomorrow.

This Week's Haul

Due to the unfortunate timing of the Christmas holiday this year, there was only one comic published this week. My local store threw a sale this week, too, so it was actually quite busy when I went in Wednesday afternoon. Sounds like a win for them.

By the way, you can also read what their top-sellers were for 2009; no huge surprises, although Irredeemable vol 1 being their 10th-best-selling graphic novel was interesting. It’s well worth checking out, too.

  • Blackest Night #6 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert & Joe Prado (DC)
Blackest Night #6 Has Blackest Night been a smash hit for DC comics? Commercially, there’s no question, it’s been a huge success, building on top of the growing readership of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern run, and trying to use that to build interest in other DC titles. To put it cynically, that’s basically the point of comics “events”: Get people to pick up some books they wouldn’t otherwise read, and hope a few of them stick around to keep reading them. While I think they could have executed the crossover aspect better (I’ve griped that the free ring promotion was undercut by the issues promoted by the rings didn’t make much effort to explain to new readers what was going on or why we should care), overall DC certainly deserves credit for their marketing of the event.

But is the story any good?

To compare it to other recent events, it doesn’t have a high bar to cross. Of DC’s recent events, Identity Crisis was a collection of continuity navel-gazing mixed with a vile rewriting of some characters’ actions and motivations; Infinite Crisis had a plot that made no sense whatsoever and which introduced one of the least-welcome villains in recent years in Superboy Prime; and Final Crisis was no more comprehensible while additionally being pretentious and focusing on a lot of third- and fourth-string characters. Marvel’s events have been better-executed, although the stories haven’t been much good either; Civil War mucked up characters’ motivations in unbelievable ways, and Secret Invasion (Marvel’s equivalent of DC’s awful late-80s event Millennium) had an unbelievable plot.

By contrast, Blackest Night is fairly comprehensible, and rather than working with long-forgotten details of continuity, it grows out of Geoff Johns’ current storylines in Green Lantern, in which he’s introduced a full spectrum of magic-ring-wielding organizations, each tied to a different emotion. While perhaps a bit cute, Johns has established that he’s more interested in moving his story forward than in making everything line up perfectly with all the GL history from the past, and these days that seems almost novel.

As for the story itself, here’s how it’s developed so far:

  • Blackest Night #0: In this Free Comic Book Day giveaway, Green Lantern (the Hal Jordan version) and Flash (the Barry Allen version) catch up on recent developments in the DC universe, especially characters who have recently died, including Batman, whose grave they’re visiting during their reminiscence. After they leave, a minor GL villain Black Hand shows up to claim Batman’s skull (a good trick, since the last pages of Final Crisis showed that Wayne wasn’t actually dead, even though there was a body, but I suspect Johns is ignoring this detail) and state that by his hand the dead shall rise. Green Lantern #43 goes into detail about the Hand’s background.
  • Blackest Night #1: From the giant black lantern in space sector 666, black power rings emerge and fly across the universe, on the same day that the Earth remembers all his fallen heroes. Meanwhile, a “war of light” erupts among the various lantern corps. The black rings resurrect many of Earth’s dead heroes, and several of them kill and recruit Hawkman and Hawkgirl. In Green Lantern #44, Flash and GL fight the undead Martian Manhunter, learning that the zombie-like creatures cannot be killed.
  • Blackest Night #2: Undead Aquaman kills Aqualad, and the black ring takes over The Spectre. The black rings are unable to recruit Dove, however. In Green Lantern #45, the black lanterns start attacking other ring wielders.
  • Blackest Night #3: The black lantern Justice League fight Flash, GL and the Atom, the tribe of indigo lanterns show up to save them, revealing that a Green Lantern’s ring combined with one of the other colors can sever the black rings’ connections to their hosts. GL is spirited away by the indigo tribe, and the black rings take over Firestorm and claim the villains whose corpses are (oddly) buried below the Justice League’s headquarters.
  • Blackest Night #4: The world’s heroes fight a losing battle against the black lanterns as the black power levels reach 100%. The main black lantern is transported to Earth, and we learn that the entity behind the rings is a minor villain named Nekron. Over in Green Lantern, GL and the indigo lanterns recruit different colored lanterns to fight the black lanterns.
  • Blackest Night #5: The Justice League shows up to help Flash, Atom and Mera fight the black lanterns, and GL’s rainbow corps arrives to fight Nekron, but they don’t have the power to shut down Nekron’s battery. The black rings execute and recruit all the heroes who have died and been resurrected, such as Superman and Wonder Woman.
  • Blackest Night #6: In the latest issue, Flash’s quick thinking saves him and GL from the same fate as the other resurrected heroes. One of the Guardians of the Universe, Ganthet, uses his power to cause the various colored rings to generate new rings and recruit various candidates from Earth, to boost their power against Nekron.

There are still 2 issues to go – plus whatever Johns does over in Green Lantern – and the story feels fairly convoluted. It’s essentially been a running battle between the living and the dead, with the living having little hope of winning unless the lanterns can pull together and somehow destroy Nekron’s battery. The story seems to have taken place over only a couple of days (certainly no one’s caught any sleep or even had a shower during the series), which makes it rather brief for a whole war. But that’s comic books for you.

The motivations in the story are reasonably sensical for superhero comics: Nekron is an avatar of death who wants to eradicate all life to return the universe to a peaceful state (oddly, this detail is explained in an issue of Adventure Comics rather than in the main series). Why he needs to work through Black Hand to do this is not explained, though. The main emotional tension in the story is in the seven different ring-wielders trying to work together, especially since the red and orange lanterns aren’t exactly joiners. But it’s not exactly deep stuff.

And that’s really the series’ flaw: Even though it’s not the usual cynical crossover series, it’s basically just a big slugfest, with desperate situations and some witty dialogue thrown in. Johns has certainly done much better character-oriented drama in Green Lantern and I wonder if Blackest Night would have worked better had it been constrained to just the GL titles rather than roping in every character in the DC universe. The cast of characters has gotten so large that it’s difficult to care much about anyone, because there’s not much room for proper development. (Obviously, this ended up being the case in the grand-daddy of all crossover series, Crisis on Infinite Earths, but back then we didn’t really know what the drawback of such sprawling stories would be. Marv Wolfman, the writer of that crisis, took some interesting approaches to make the story more personal despite its huge scale, too, and Johns only occasionally personalizes things in Blackest Night.)

Could Blackest Night be better? Certainly, although it would probably be a fairly different story. Is it better than other recent DC events? That’s also true. Event comics always have a tendency to go for the lowest common denominator (although Marvel’s tried to avoid that at the cost of making uncomfortable and sometimes implausible changes to their characters and settings), so seeing one rise above that low level is interesting enough. Still, unless Johns has a big surprise up his sleeve, Blackest Night looks like it’s going to end up as just one more sprawling fight, a very nicely drawn one by Ivan Reis and his cast of inkers, but still, not a truly memorable series.

Check back in two months and we’ll see how things turned out.

This Week's Haul

  • Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #3 of 3, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Thomasi, Chris Samnee, Mike Mayhew & Ivan Reis (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #29, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #13, by Matt Wagner & Michael William Kaluta (DC/Vertigo)
  • Wednesday Comics #4 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Ignition City #4 of 5, by Warren Ellis & Gianluca Pagliarani (Avatar)
  • Dynamo 5: Fresh Blood vol 3 TPB, by Jay Faerber & Mahmud A. Asrar (Image)
Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #3 From that cover, maybe the final issue of Tales of the Corps should have been titled “Boobest Night”. Geez, guys.

This has actually been a fun series, and the two stories in this issue are quite good, focusing on a pair of Green Lanterns. I especially like Mike Mayhew’s art on the Arisia story – where has this guy been hiding? (Well, here, apparently.) It’s tough to pull off an anthology series, but this has been a nice diversion.

Justice Society of America #29 Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges take over the writing duties on Justice Society this month. I think Don McPherson’s put his finger on it when he says that the book doesn’t really feel like it marks the beginning of a new era as the cover proclaims – fundamentally it feels like an extension of Geoff Johns’ run, with too many characters and not enough characterization. On the other hand, there are a couple of mysteries thrown into the mix almost immediately, and my experience with Willingham’s writing is that his mysteries usually pay off. But yeah, at first blush it’s more of the same (and I suspect that might be by editorial fiat, since, after all, JSA has been selling well for years). But hopefully it will evolve into something better in the coming months.

I really wish Willingham or someone else would pare the team down to just 7 members or so. Writing for more just leaves lots of characters without any screen time, and is rather a waste.

Wednesday Comics #4 The stories in Wednesday Comics finish their opening acts this week (if one assumes a 3-act structure), so most of them are just keepin’ on keepin’ on. The pleasant surprise this week is that Metamorpho has more than a single panel of story, so (a little) something actually happens. On the other hand, I’m disappointed at the turn The Demon and Catwoman story has taken, with Selina turning into a puma, which basically removes her from the picture as a character, and the Demon isn’t much of a character (he’s a Kirby DC creation, after all).

Other strips I haven’t mentioned yet: J.D. asked me about Batman last week, and I agree that it’s a rather undistinguished strip. I think scenes with heroes in their secret identities are very underused these days, so I appreciate Azzarello playing around with Bruce Wayne a bit, but overall I have a hard time figuring out what the point of the strip is.

Much as I enjoy Amanda Conner getting to draw Supergirl with a variety of facial expressions (such expressions being her forté), the story is just her zipping from one place to another, and is thus rather dull.

Deadman appears to have been sent to hell or some equivalent, which isn’t very interesting. Deadman can be a hard character to write as a leading man; I think this story would have been better served taking a page from the Deadman shorts from Adventure Comics back in the 70s, where he basically works on helping someone else through their problems. Not that he can’t be written on his own, as the Andrew Helfer/José Luis Garcia-Lopez mini-series from the 80s that wrapped up the plot threads from the Neil Adams run was fantastic, and the Mike Baron/Kelley Jones series from the 90s was an interesting take.

This Week's Haul

  • Blackest Night #1 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Black Night: Tales of the Corps #1 of 3, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Jerry Ordway, Chris Samnee & Rags Morales (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #25, by Adam Beechen, Roger Robinson & Hilary Barta (DC)
  • Fables #86, by Bill Willingham, Jim Fern & Craig Hamilton (DC/Vertigo)
  • JSA vs. Kobra #2 of 6, by Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • Wednesday Comics #2 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Captain Britain Omnibus Edition HC, by Alan Moore, Alan Davis, Jamie Delano, Chris Claremont, and others (Marvel)
  • Incognito #5 of 6, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Artesia Besieged #3 of 6, by Mark Smylie (Archaia)
  • The Unknown #3 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Unthinkable #3 of 5, by Mark Sable & Julian Totino Tedesco (Boom)
  • RASL #5, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon)
Blackest Night #1

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #1

DC’s next big event is Blackest Night, which is basically the next Green Lantern event (the last one was The Sinestro Corps War. Extending the theme of power-ring-empowered characters across the color spectrum, Blackest Night introduces the Black Lanterns, spearheaded by longtime C-list Lantern foe Black Hand. The Black Lanterns’ rings seek out dead heroes and villains and turns them into evil zombies, rising from the grave to strike out against their former friends and allies.

Honestly, I wish this had stayed just a Green Lantern story, rather than bringing in all the other DC characters. I can see bringing in The Flash since he’s one of GL’s best friends, he’s newly back from the dead himself, and the fact that Flash and GL are both dead men walking looks like it’s going to be a theme of the series. But bringing back dozens of dead heroes and villains who are largely unrelated to GL seems completely gratuitous and unnecessary. This first issue’s final scene involves Elongated Man and his wife Sue coming back as zombies to attack and take down Hawkman and Hawkgirl, which is grisly and basically no fun. Whereas the scene in which a legion of dead Green Lanterns erupt from their mausoleum is actually pretty creepy.

(Aside: From my understanding of the status quo, the Elongated Man scene strongly suggests that the black rings haven’t brought the bodies’ souls back to their zombie forms, because Ralph and Sue Dibny’s souls have been doing good work as spiritual detectives lately. So the bodies have been reanimated with a vestige of their former personalities, I infer. But hopefully it will all be explained.)

Anyway, unfortunately we’re stuck with this as a company-wide crossover. Don McPherson liked it, while Chris Sims hated it. I’m closer to Sims’ opinion, as it mostly feels like a misfire: Geoff Johns’ attempts to paint various heroes’ emotions regarding their deceased comrades feels abrupt and artificial, basically manipulative. Johns does a decent job dealing with “his” characters (GL and Flash), but few of the other characters’ portrayals work for me.

I think this story can work if it focuses heavily on the Green Lanterns and shoves most of the other DCU character aside. I don’t think it’s going to do that. It could achieve a lower level of success by making the Black Lanterns interesting and novel, which it just might do. But it’s not off to a strong start. Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert’s art is good as always, though.

(BTW, DC is promoting the series with plastic Black Lantern rings, and I got one from my store on Wednesday.)

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps is a tie-in title focusing on some of the supporting cast of the GL series. It’s not essential, but it is pretty fun. The first story provides the backstory of Saint Walker, the first of the Blue Lanterns, with excellent art by Jerry Ordway. The second story is about the son of the villain Mongul, is a very slight piece, and I didn’t care for the art at all. The third story is the introduction of the engimatic Indigo Tribe, with great art by Rags Morales (who I wish we saw more of), though the story is little more than a teaser.

Fables #86 Gee, what more can I say about the new Fables that Greg Burgas hasn’t already said?:

Now that the interminable Great Fables Crossover is over, Willingham has turned back into a good writer and gives us a nice tale about the Dark Man and how he came to be trapped in a box.

The backstory of the Boxers – a secret society of powerful wizards tasked with imprisoning powerful evil creatures in the Empire – is compelling, one of the more interesting ideas put forth in the whole series. I’d be willing to read a whole mini-series about this group, honestly! Jim Fern and Craig Hamilton produce some stunningly lovely artwork here – among the best the series has ever seen, and that’s saying something! Hamilton is one of those rarely-seen artists whose absence is always sorely felt on those rare occasions when he does come back to draw something; even just as the inker here, his impact is clear. I still pull out his old Aquaman mini-series from 25 years ago in large part to enjoy his art anew.

Anyway, this is a great issue which has rekindled my enthusiasm for the series. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Wednesday Comics #2 Wednesday Comics‘ second week is about the same as its first. The standout story is Karl Kerschl & Brenden Fletcher’s Flash, which has a very interesting development involving time travel. The Demon and Catwoman is also becoming intriguing.

On the other hand, I couldn’t even read the Wonder Woman story, the layouts are so convoluted. The Superman page is just awful, with a tired old character development and artwork I really can’t stand. Teen Titans I could read, but I just don’t care. Hawkman has nice Kyle Baker artwork, but I really hate the ultra-violent portrayal of Hawkman that’s been in vogue over the last decade.

The other stories are, well, second pages of their stories, moving things forward a little bit. Kurt Busiek’s Green Lantern story is amusingly set in the (I think) 1950s, and it ends in a cliffhanger. Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred are taking a decidedly offbeat approach to their Metamorpho story, having a lot of fun with some clichés of the genre, although there’s not a lot of story yet.

So as you’d expect, the second issue goes in all sorts of different directions, a few good, many bad. But the whole package still hasn’t really distinguished itself.

Captain Britain Omnibus Edition HC Captain Britain was originally a British superhero created and written by Americans. In the early 80s, Marvel Comics UK was interested in publishing a little original material, and pulled this character back from oblivion for a long run of short chapters in a variety of titles. The artist of the relaunch was Alan Davis, doing his first major comics series, who would go on to become one of Marvel’s major art stars in the 80s and 90s. Meanwhile, the writing included a lengthy story by Alan Moore (yes, that Alan Moore) and a run by Jamie Delano. Captain Britain and his girlfriend Meggan then became mainstays of Marvel’s Excalibur title.

In other words, despite a haphazard publication history, a neophyte artist, and stories that were sometimes hard to follow, Captain Britain ended up establishing both creators and characters who would impact Marvel for years to come. And after a couple of paperback collections from a decade ago, Marvel’s now given this the hardcover omnibus treatment, with the whole run – plus a few miscellaneous extras – collected in one lovely package.

Unfortunately, at just under a hundred bucks, it’s difficult for me to say, “Try it, you’ll like it!” The early chapters are pretty weak, and Davis is a below-average artist at first. Moore’s celebrated run is pretty good, but often a little too metaphysical for my tastes, as it’s difficult to figure out what’s going on or how the characters came around to their presence circumstances and motivations. Nonetheless, as a battle of heroes against two tremendously powerful – nigh-unbeatable, really – foes, it does a good job of evoking up the “always darkest before the dawn” feelings that such a story should have, and it has a satisfying climax.

Delano’s stories don’t hold together as a coherent whole, they’re more a series of vignettes, but overall they’re better than Moore’s story, with much deeper emotional resonance, and even a certain sense of regret that the series was ultimately cancelled even though it seemed there was a lot more story to tell. Captain Britain’s heroic deeds have a certain amount of fall-out which his friends and especially his sister believe it’s their responsibility to care for. Cap doesn’t agree, since his actions were really cleaning up someone else’s mess, and he’s not truly responsible for the events. This leads to a schism between Cap and his friends, but he finds a new ally – and lover – in Meggan, an elfish shapeshifter. Each individual chapter is powerful, and the ongoing story shifts and develops over time, but the ending feels rather abrupt, even if it’s arguably the best that could have been done under the circumstances. Still, really good stuff.

Holding it all together is Davis’ artwork, which steadily improves, and arguably the early Delano stories feature some of the best art he’s even done, imaginative yet realistic, and a little more moody than his hyper-polished style that he developed not long after. Certainly if top-shelf Davis artwork is what you want, you can’t really ask for better than what you’ll find here.

I admit a waffled a little on whether I really wanted to pick this up. I finally decided there was just enough material here that I hadn’t seen before that combined with the lovely hardcover volume it was worth the money to me. I’ll surely pull it out and read it many times. But it’s a tall investment for other fans, I understand. You might do better to seek out one of the older paperback collections to give it a try before you plunk down a C-note – or even a little over $60 at Amazon.com – for this one.

(I think Marvel issued this with two covers, one each with Cap’s two costumes. I picked up the one with his original costume, as depicted at left. I actually like his original costume better, but it’s incongruous here since he shifts to his new costume on the very first page. Small matter, though.)

This Week’s Haul

Actually two week’s worth of comics, since I didn’t pick them up while I was on vacation. This includes Marvel’s notoriously large shipment from that week:

  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three #3 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Batman and Robin #2, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)
  • Green Lantern #42, by Geoff Johns, Philip Tan, Eddy Barrow, Jonathan Glapion & Ruy José (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #28, by Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • The Literals #3, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Madame Xanadu #12, by Matt Wagner & Michael Wm. Kaluta (DC/Vertigo)
  • Astonishing X-Men #30, by Warren Ellis & Simone Bianchi (Marvel)
  • Avengers/Invaders #12 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Steve Sadowski & Jack Herbert (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #15, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker, Victor Olazaba & Livesay (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #130, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Ryan Stegman, Rodney Buchemi & Terry Pallot (Marvel)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist #27, by Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman, David Lapham & Timothy Green II (Marvel)
  • Nova #26, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • War of Kings #5 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Echo #13, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Irredeemable #4, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder #1 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Ben Stenbeck & Dave Stewart (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #32, by Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra (Dynamite)
  • Prince Valiant: 1937-1938 vol 1 HC, by Hal Foster (Fantagraphics)
Green Lantern #42 The interesting thing about Green Lantern #42 – which wraps up the “Agent Orange” story before we launch into “Blackest Night” – is that it so baldly demonstrates how machiavellian the Guardians of the Universe have become. The Guardians started off as mysterious and withdrawn arbiters of justice, and over the years have become less and less sympathetic, pursuing their own agendas, answering to nobody (least of all their own Green Lantern Corps), and making decisions humans would consider questionable.

In “Agent Orange”, a group of Lanterns confronts Larfleeze, the keeper of the orange light, an obsessive collector who desires the blue ring that Hal Jordan has acquired. (For those keeping score at home the lights we’ve seen so far include green for will, yellow for fear, magenta for love, blue for hope, and orange for avarice.) Hal manages to hold him off until the Guardians – Larfleeze’s old enemies – show up and make peace with him by giving him something he wants. What he wants is a blue ring, so they tell him where the two renegade Guardians who are forming the blue corps are hiding, and he attacks them. Yes, the Guardians essentially threw two of their own under the bus to build a treaty with this insane creature. Hal doesn’t know what exactly they gave him, but he knows it can’t be a good thing, whatever it is.

I wonder where Johns is going with all this – and I wonder it in a good way. Are we heading towards an eventual rebellion of the Lanterns towards the Guardians? Is something going on with the Guardians to make them so nasty? It’s hard to see how this status quo can hold without the heroes becoming complicit in the questionable actions of their bosses. Yet it’s also a fascinating romp through the relationships among the powerful beings that inhabit DC’s outer space milieu. Good stuff.

The Literals #3 Well thank the powers that be that that’s over.

The Literals #3 wraps up “The Great Fables Crossover”, which has been so horribly written that it actually made me consider giving up on Fables altogether. The premise is that Kevin Thorn has the power to rewrite reality, and he’s decided that our reality has worn out its welcome, so he’s going to wipe it out and create a new one. He kills his brother, Writer’s Block, and stops his father, his son, and several other characters from interfering, spending eight issues eventually getting around to taking action – before the heroes get to him and do, indeed, stop him.

There was maybe three issues of story here, stretched out to nine issues. The rest of the space is filled with plenty of Jack of Fables’ annoying antics (reminding me why I dropped his book in the first place – I can’t stand reading about him), introducing a new character (Jack Frost, the other Jack’s son), and stretching out Kevin’s efforts to overcome Writer’s Block and other minor obstacles as far as possible.

And honestly I just didn’t give a damn about any of it, especially since most of the setup appeared to revolve around the Jack of Fables supporting cast, and having nothing at all to do with the ongoing story in Fables itself.

The Literals appears to have been created specifically to play out this crossover story, featuring several character who represent various elements of literature (individual genres, as well as more abstract elements). It looks like this was the last issue of the series, which is something of a mercy: While these characters are interesting ideas in the abstract, this story has been the worst possible manner in which to launch a new series.

Honestly I’m not sure what Willingham and Sturges were thinking here. The whole thing was badly conceived, badly written, and unrewarding, a strong contender for the award of worst comics story I’ve read this year. I hope Fables gets back on track next issue and we can all forget that “The Great Fables Crossover” ever happened.

Avengers/Invaders #12 Avengers/Invaders has been perhaps the best of the Alex Ross/Jim Krueger collaborations. Unfortunately, that doesn’t set the bar very high, so this 12-issue series has been merely “okay”.

I’m not sure exactly what it is, but every Ross/Krueger book I’ve read has been ponderously paced, striving to be thoughtful but instead being merely dull. I don’t know whether this is a fundamental flaw in Ross’ approach to plotting, or if Krueger brings out the worst in his storytelling, but either way Earth X, Project Superpowers and this one have all been pretty tedious.

What elevates this series above the others is that it seems more tightly focused (even though it’s told in three discrete four-issue segments), having a clear direction and a reasonable resolution at each stage of the way. The other books seemed to get bogged down in their ambition, losing sight of what they were doing and ultimately just being unsatisfying both to read and to have read. A/I also has more action and some sympathetic characters, from tragic World War II soldier Paul Anselm who is thrown into the present along with the Invaders and who causes the problems they’re trying to resolve in this third chapter, to the two Captains America, the first of whom is currently dead in modern times, and the second of whom is his partner Bucky, who is one of the Invaders thrown forward in time. The cast is way too large to give everyone equal time – most of the Avengers are merely troops supporting the main characters – but the focus on the main figures, especially the Invaders, makes the story work well enough.

Unfortunately, the story isn’t really very original: We have Ultron again, the Red Skull controlling the Cosmic Cube again, characters from the past viewing elements of the present day as downright evil (a theme explored more brutally in the DC Two Thousand JLA/JSA story from 9 years ago). So the story has less of an impact than it might have since it feels largely rehashed.

Steve Sadowski’s artwork is pretty nifty, although I find his layouts to be a little confusing at times, and his action sequences to feel somewhat muted. I think he’s inking himself here, but a stronger inker might bring out his best elements more effectively. (His inks seem influenced by Tom Palmer, whose style worked best over a more dynamic penciller.)

Anyway, I don’t regret having read it, but Avengers/Invaders doesn’t make me optimistic that the Ross/Krueger tandem has turned the corner. And certainly I still have no interest in reading anymore of Project Superpowers.

The Immortal Iron Fist #27 The Immortal Iron Fist ends its run this week, although it’ll be followed by an Immortal Weapons mini-series, focusing on the Fist’s peer heroes from the other Seven Capital Cities of Heaven. (The preview of the first issue at the end of this issue looks pretty good.)

The series on the whole has been quite entertaining, and the switch from Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction and writers to Duane Swierczynski has barely been noticeable, as the style and quality hardly changed at all. The art has generally been strong, and the book’s strength of exploring the background of the Fist’s mystical city of K’un Lun has been intriguing and often exciting. If I have a criticism, it’s that the characterizations of Fist and his friends has been rather thin, so his personal struggles to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend Misty Knight, retain control of his company, and come to grips with getting older have felt superficial. I guess there’s just been too much stuff to pack into a regular-sized monthly comic to make the characters truly engaging.

(For example, this issue ends with a revelation in the Fist/Misty relationship, which is touching and makes his future a little more intriguing, but it feels like it comes out of left field.

Nonetheless, it’s been a fun ride, and I hope Iron Fist will be back after the interregnum of the mini-series. But if not, well, I’m sure he’ll be back sometime.

Prince Valiant vol 1: 1937-1938 My choice for the greatest comic strip in history would be Hal Foster’s epic adventure strip Prince Valiant. And now Fantagraphics is reprinting the series in a series of spiffy, oversized hardcover collections, with the first volume out this week. And even though I own the whole 40-volume set of the Foster-drawn pages that Fantagraphics published in the 1990s, I’m perfectly happy to buy this new series, with larger pages, better-quality paper, and much better-quality coloring. The first volume covers the first two years, 1937-1938, and while the earliest episodes feel a little primitive by the standards of Foster’s tremendous skills, by the end of 1937 you can clearly see Foster getting his footing and developing into the artistic legend he’s become.

What makes Prince Valiant so great? After all, it’s about a fictional hero from Norway who’s exiled along with his father to the British isles during the age of the equally-fictional King Arthur (circa the 5th century). Val becomes a Knight of the Round Table and embarks on many adventures of varying plausibility, so in the large it sounds like pretty standard stuff.

Well, aside from Foster being one of the greatest pop artists of the 20th century, the story feels like nothing else in graphic storytelling: It’s told in narration rather than in the immediate action-and-dialogue style of comic books, yet it loses none of is impact. Foster conveys action and excitement without many of the conventions of superhero comics. And Val gradually grows up, matures, gets married, and has children during the course of the strip. In this volume he’s a young man of maybe 15 or 16 years of age, full of bluster and passion, yet still finding his place in the world. He’s clever, yet makes mistakes along the way and is often saved through dumb (sometimes tragic) luck. It’s an epic saga a little bit different from anything like it, and Foster’s dedication to his craft makes it better than even the notable stories by his not-inconsiderable peers (Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, etc.).

The next volume is announced for “spring of 2010”, so it looks like we’ll be getting 2 years worth of pages every 9 months or so, which will make for a pretty slow crawl to get to the strip’s apex in the 1950s. I think it will be worth it, though. It’s excellent stuff, and I look forward to enjoying it all over again.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #24, by Matt Wayne & Howard Porter (DC)
  • Ex Machina #43, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War vol 2 TPB, by Geoff Johns, Dave Gibbons, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason & Ethan Van Sciver (DC)
  • Jack of Fables #35, by Bill Willingham, Matt Sturges, Russ Braun & José Marzán Jr. (DC/Vertigo)
  • Power Girl #2, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • The Starman Omnibus vol 3 HC, by James Robinson, Tony Harris, Wade Von Grawbadger, Gene Ha, J.H. Williams III, Bret Blevins, Michael Zulli & others (DC)
  • Sleeper Season One TPB, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Incognito #4, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Invincible #63, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Phonogram: The Singles Club #3 of 7, by Keiron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Leigh Gallagher & Lee O’Connor (Image)
Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War vol 2 The odd thing about The Sinestro Corps War is that it’s an epic battle with way more carnage than your average mainstream superhero comic, but it ends up feeling like a prologue to a larger story. Which in a way it is, since there are all sorts of broad hints dropped about the upcoming event Blackest Night. Plus there’s Superman Prime and Sodam Yat, who both headed off to appear in Legion of 3 Worlds, the Anti-Monitor, and various other nasties running around who pop up later. This gives the ending anything but an air of finality; we know all these guys will be back. It’s a little disappointing that the story feels so up-front about it.

Anyway, the premise is that long-time GL villain Sinestro gets his own corp, wielding yellow rings, and they go to war with the Green Lantern Corps. The Sinestros are willing to kill, while the Guardians of the Universe won’t let the GLs kill, which makes the battle somewhat lopsided. Plus the Sinestros recruited the aforementioned villains to help take down the good guys. Meanwhile the Guardians are struggling with a prophecy in the Book of Oa (their homeworld), which most of them resist believing in, even though it seems clear it’s all going to come to pass. So the war is sort of a test for the Guardians sticking up for what they believe in, which would be more comforting except that over the years the Guardians have seemed less and less trustworthy in that regard. Which of course is why things start to go downhill from here.

Green Lantern is writer Geoff Johns at his best, as I’ve said before: His best plotting, and his best character bits, seem to end up in here. The story’s climax has the best moment, with Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner taking down Sinestro after they’ve all been taken out of the larger conflict. Unlike the Guardians, Hal and Kyle are all about sticking up for what they believe in. Ivan Reis’ art is perhaps the best it’s even been in this volume.

The story also includes several issues from Green Lantern Corps, which are not as strong as the mainline GL ones: Patrick Gleason’s art isn’t as polished as Reis’, and the characters are generally not as interesting as Hal Jordan. The issue where Prime and Sodam Yat fight is disappointing; I still don’t understand why Prime is so powerful, that a Daxamite with the full force of the Corps at his disposal can’t take him down.

Overall, this volume and the one that precede it are a nice package. Green Lantern might be the best mainstream superhero comic out there… if it weren’t for Invincible, which also came out this week, and which seems to raise the bar with each new issue.

Sleeper Season One Even though I’m not generally a fan of pulps and noir stories, I’ve been totally sucked in to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ comics series. Incognito is a clever suspense yarn, and this week we also get the Sleeper Season One collecting the first 12 issues of an older series of theirs. The main character is a guy with superpowers – well one rather awkward yet terrifying power – who’s nominally a good guy, but his agency has sent him as a deep-cover agent into a nest of super-villains, working a long-term mission to bring down the organization. The problem is that when you’re undercover for that long, you start to identify with the guys you’re infiltrating, and it becomes difficult to tell which side you’re really on.

I’m only two issues into the volume so far, but it’s quite good, better than Incognito, maybe better than Criminal. It’s got an open-ended set-up, so it certainly seems to have legs, but stories like this also have to have a big payoff. The first two volumes of Criminal did, so I’m hoping this one does, too. It’s certainly got everything else going for it.

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.