This Week’s Haul

Lots of collections this week, of which I’d most highly recommend the new Sandman Mystery Theatre volume, a series which I’ve been thoroughly enjoying in reprint (having passed on it the first time around since I didn’t warm to the art at first – it got better) as a retro-noir-detective series. Hopefully DC is committed to getting the whole series out in trade.

American Vampire #2 is a big leap forward from #1, tying together its two stories – outlaw Skinner Sweet from the 19th century, and aspiring showgirl Pearl from 1925. Although it’s essentially the second half of the two characters’ origin stories, it’s much more satisfying than the first half, which didn’t even scratch the surface. It also lays out the direction of the series, that American vampires will be fundamentally different from European vampires, which will put the two groups into conflict but also mirror the growing influence of America in world affairs (or, so I infer). I hope there will be at least a bone tossed to explain why American vampires are different, rather than “just ‘cuz”, though.

I’m still not sure what I think of Rafael Albuquerque’s art, though I’ve warmed to it more since last issue. My biggest gripes about it are the exaggeration he gives to the vampires when their feral nature emerges, which makes little sense and isn’t dramatically effective (it’s more silly than anything else), which undercuts the two big splash panels in the issue.

But although the series is off to a shaky start, I’m much more optimistic that it will be worthwhile than I was after the first issue.

This issue of The Brave and the Bold actually made me mad. It starts out as a “girl’s night out” yarn in which Zatanna invites out Wonder Woman and Batgirl (the Barbara Gordon version) for a night of dancing, but with the hint of something ominous. That “something” soon becomes clear: Zatanna’s had a vision of Batgirl’s impending crippling at the hands of the Joker (from Batman: The Killing Joke) and she’s set this up as one nice last night while Batgirl is still ambulatory.

The story is manipulative and heavy-handed, overly sentimental, and about 20 years past its expiration date. As a lead-in to some new tragedy befalling a character it might have been okay, but done this way it’s just awful, twisting the knife (again and again and again, as comics are wont to do) by bringing up Gordon’s injury in full force yet again.

Everyone associated with this issue should be ashamed of themselves. This is crap.

Since it launched in the wake of Annihilation, Nova has been consistently one of Marvel’s best comics, despite struggling through one pointless event crossover comic (Secret Invasion) after another (War of Kings). In Annihilation Richard Ryder had grown up from a teenage hot-shot superhero to a first-tier leader who led the good guys to victory after the Nova Corps had been annihilated and he’d inherited their aggregate power. Nova continued his development, taking on increasingly larger threats while he worked to rebirth the Nova Corps. The journey was haphazard, but ultimately enjoyable. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning kept the focus on the main character, and the art was consistently strong, first with the always-great Sean Chen, and later with the solid Andrea Divito.

At the other end of the Spectrum, Guardians of the Galaxy followed a year later after Annihilation Conquest, and although it started off strong – tying in with the 30th-century Guardians and picking up the pieces scattered around after the two Annihilation series – it quickly fragmented, the Guardians never really seeming to have an officially-recognized place in the galaxy which undercut their effectiveness. The cast was too large and got pulled in too many directions – Moondragon died and came back, Phyla-Vell died and came back with entirely different powers, Warlock went through his predictable metamorphosis into the Magus – and the story was weighed down by too many unbelievably high-stakes events to ever be grounded in its characters or its setting. And the art ranged from quite good to pretty ugly. The series was just never satisfying.

And now both series are being cancelled ahead of a new event comic, The Thanos Imperative, which not only is a stupid-sounding title but heralds yet another return of Marvel’s second-string cosmic heavy (after Galactus). Unfortunately, I have little interest in reading yet another iteration of Jim Starlin’s prime baddie, so I think this is it for me and Marvel’s cosmic line. Keith Giffen and company did a great job getting things started back in Annihilation (still one of the best Marvel books of the last decade) and a 3-year run of spin-offs ain’t bad. But I think the train’s about to jump the rails.

I might sign on for another Nova series, if there is one, and if it’s not too weighed down by crossovers. But otherwise: Thanks guys, it’s been fun.

This Week’s Haul

And… we’re back! A bumpy ride for the server the site’s hosted on has slowed down getting much done around here, but it doesn’t stop me from buying new comics, no sir!

  • Astro City: Astra #2 of 2, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Blackest Night #4 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Green Lantern #47, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #32, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #16, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (DC/Vertigo)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #19, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Wesley Craig (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #137, by Fred Van Lente, Greg Pak & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
  • Nova #30, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Kevin Sharpe & Nelson Pereira (Marvel)
  • FreakAngels vol 3 TPB, by Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield (Avatar)
  • Ignition City #5 of 5, by Warren Ellis & Gianluca Pagliarani (Avatar)
  • Abe Sapien: The Haunted Boy, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Patric Reynolds (Dark Horse)
  • Dynamo 5 #25, by Jay Faerber, Mahmud A. Asrar & others (Image)
Astro City: Astra #2 One way to look at superhero comics history in the so-called Marvel Age of Comics is that Stan Lee and his bullpen humanized heroes by giving them down-to-Earth problems in the 1960s (Spider-Man being the prime example), and creators of the late 70s and early 80s took the next step by – essentially – turning team comics into ongoing soap operas involving the relationships among the crimefighters (the new X-Men and the New Teen Titans). One could see that the next logical step in that progression might be for heroes to have lives and problems which are directly reflective of those of real people, whether they’re your everyday Joe or a worldwide celebrity. But instead comics went in a different direction, moving towards stories based primarily in shock value (violence, sex, gore, and zombies) and incestuous continuity for the hard-core fan. Rather than bringing the content of comics closer to the mainstream, this served to get comics noticed by the mainstream, and then marginalized as commercial art form more than ever before, as sales over the last 15 years have been at historic lows.

Disregarding any oversimplifications I’ve made, the two part Astro City special featuring Astra is arguably a glimpse of how comics could have gone. Astra is a worldwide celebrity with the problems of being a worldwide celebrity – problems you rarely see, say, the Fantastic Four having to deal with – such as trying to figure out what to do with her life after college, under intense media scrutiny which doesn’t always regard her in a heroic light. The genius of Kurt Busiek‘s series is that he considers the natural implications of what a world full of superheroes means, without making it a grim and depressing world as one sees in Watchmen or its legions of descendants. As Astra gives her boyfriend a tour of a slice of her life, we see both the wonders she’s experienced and the downsides of being a famous superhero. Busiek is the best in the business at presenting such nuances with a minimum of authorial judgment, resulting in a rich world full of crunchy notions for the reader to think about. There’s really nothing else like it in comics.

That said, the Astra story was a little disappointing in that Busiek took what I thought was a disappointingly cheap shot in the development of Astra’s relationship with her boyfriend. I saw it coming pages away, and thought, “Geez, I hope that’s not the way this story is going”, but it was. Even making what I thought was this poor choice, Busiek still handles it elegantly, but it still made the story less than I’d hoped.

Nonetheless, any week with a new Astro City is a good week!

Guardians of the Galaxy #19 Guardians of the Galaxy wraps up its various ongoing storylines this month – but unfortunately it’s not good. Star-Lord’s team returns from the future to learn that Adam Warlock managed to prevent the rift opened at the end of War of Kings from dooming that future, but the price he paid is of being transformed into his own evil future self, the Magus, whom the Guardians must now defeat to save the future again. They do so, but at a very high price: About half of the team is dead by the end of the story.

Boy, where to begin? Guardians as a series has been wrecked by crossovers with Marvel events, especially War of Kings. The characters have never been able to develop as a result, the team having been fragmented for months. The initial promise of Vance Astro arriving from the future and the murky threat of the mysterious Universal Church of Truth have been completely swamped by these later, largely unrelated, developments. The story’s developed so haphazardly that there’s really been no dramatic payoff to any of those elements, and killing off half the cast is a poor reward for fans following the series to this point. (And bringing them back would be even cheaper.)

The artwork in the series has gone steadily downhill, too, with Wesley Craig’s work here being its nadir: Simple, angular linework, extreme facial grimaces, minimal backgrounds, it’s very cartoony in appearance and just doesn’t work for me in the Marvel space milieu.

Its fellow title Nova has held up much better through the various crossovers, moving both its main character and its background forward a little bit each year. Guardians seems to have fallen completely apart, having lost its focus and not replaced it with anything. It’s one high-stakes action sequence after another, and that gets tiresome after a while unless there’s something more coherent holding it all together. But just typing the synopsis of the recent issues made me shake my head at how disjointed it all is. It may be time to bail on this series.

(Incidentally, although Kang the Conqueror appears prominently on the cover and does impact the storyline, he does so as a deus-ex-machina and isn’t even the adversary in the book. Talk about misleading!)

Ignition City #5 Warren EllisIgnition City wraps up this week. Cynical and violent, it’s been sort of interesting in pulling together analogs of old SF heroes into one rather depressing milieu. The story works out a little better than most of what I’ve read from Ellis’ series for Avatar, as I don’t really want to read what Ellis comes up with when a publisher lets him unleash the grotesqueries of his mind, but it’s still a so-so read. The world Ellis has concocted is interesting – after the golden age of spaceflight in the 1930s comes to an end, the remaining spacemen are stranded on the island of Ignition City in the 1950s – but we really only scratch the surface of it. The most interesting bit is a Buck Rogers character who’s depressed because of his glimpse of the bleak 25th century. Mary Raven’s quest to avenger her father doesn’t really measure up to the implied backstories of the other characters.

Gianluca Pagliarani’s artwork is okay, although his characters don’t always have a consistent look and their expressions tend toward the vacant; his renderings of the gritty setting are solid, though.

Overall, not one of Ellis’ stronger works, and I doubt I’ll be on board for any sequels.

Dynamo 5 #25 Jay Faerber is I suppose the reigning king of superhero soap opera comics, first with Noble Causes about a famous team of superheroes and the people they slept with, and now with Dynamo 5, about a team of young heroes who each have one power inherited from their father, Captain Dynamo, who fathered each of them with a different woman, and none with his actual wife, who’s now the team’s mentor. I bailed on Noble Causes early in its run due to an erratic publishing schedule, even more erratic artwork, and a story I couldn’t quite follow. I only gave Dynamo 5 a chance recently, and it’s a much better series, with a consistent artist, Mahmud A. Asrar, who’s entirely capable of drawing a fun, dynamic superhero series, with a bit of a Bryan Hitch look to his style but more of a fluid Alan Davis approach to his layouts.

This issue is apparently Asrar’s last, and the series is going on hiatus while Faeber brings a new artist up to speed. But the first 25 issues are a lot of fun, with characters from different backgrounds with powers that don’t always match their personalities, and the usual frictions among the members. This issue culminates the recent storyline in which the team were stripped of their powers, but in a twist reminiscent of Power Pack, they regain them but each member has a different power than they’d had before. So this is a natural breaking point between Asrar’s run and whatever comes next. It might also be a good jumping-on point for a new reader, save for the aforementioned hiatus, which may well see the series cease to be a regular series and go to some different format. Which would be a shame since that’s one of the things that put me off of Noble Causes.

Drawing comics art is hard work, no doubt about it, especially given the high standards artists working at a modern major company are held to by the company and the readers. (Just look at some of the criticisms I level at artists of comics I read.) So I respect both Faerber and Asrar for trying to figure out how to position Dynamo 5 to continue publication in the future. But on the other hand, options like a “series of mini-series” are very hard to pull off, and I think Robert Kirkman’s Invincible has demonstrated how important it is to have a regular artist who can work a regular monthly schedule and produce quality work as well; there’s really no substitute for it. Heck, the musical artist chairs afflicting some series at DC and Marvel have really hurt those series, too (I’m looking at you, Guardians of the Galaxy). Honestly I think finding such an artist ought to be Faerber’s highest priority for Dynamo 5.

All that aside, if you’re looking for some quality science fiction soap opera, check out the paperback collections of Dynamo 5. And then we can see what direction the series takes from here.

This Week’s Haul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week’s Haul

Wow, nearly every Marvel comic I buy came out this week:

  • Green Lantern #41, by Geoff Johns, Philip Tan, Eddy Barrows, Jonathan Glapion, Ruy José & Julio Ferreira (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #27, by Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • The Literals #2, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Madame Xanadu #11, by Matt Wagner & Michael Wm. Kaluta (DC/Vertigo)
  • Avengers/Invaders #11 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Steve Sadowski & Patrick Berkenkotter (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #14, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker & Victor Olazaba (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #129, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Ryan Stegman & Terry Pallot (Marvel)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist #26, by Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman & Tom Palmer (Marvel)
  • Nova #25, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Kevin Sharpe, Jeffrey Huet & Nelson Pereira (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #6 of 6, by David Petersen (Archaia)
  • Ignition City #3 of 5, by Warren Ellis & Giancula Pagliarani (Avatar)
Madame Xanadu #11 Madame Xanadu wrapped up its first storyline last month, chronicling how a woodland sorceress in the time of King Arthur gradually turned into the reserved, somewhat dour seeress of the modern day, bedeviled all along by the cryptic guidance of the Phantom Stranger (a long-standing DC character who must frustrate the heck out of everyone he tries to help although they rarely show it, so Xanadu’s honesty in that regard has been rather refreshing). That taken care of, regular artist Amy Reeder Hadley is taking a break while much-lauded cover artist Michael Wm. Kaluta fills in for a 5-issue story.

The series has been kind of so-so to date: A fairly consistent pattern of the Stranger trying to help, Xanadu getting frustrated, and things turning out badly, until the last two issues when she strikes back, and things still turn out badly. Now she’s hung up her shingle as a fortune-teller, and one of her first clients is a woman whose father was found immolated in his home, and she suspects foul play. Xanadu determines that it was likely a supernatural murder, and as she starts to look for the killer, she also reminisces about the days she lived in Spain, during the Inquisition, and had taken on a young woman as a lover.

The modern story (which I think takes place in the 1920s) is fairly interesting, but the flashback sequence is ho-hum, the sort of thing I’d hoped would have been put behind us after the first ten issues, which have really been one large flashback. Let’s stick to moving things forward! I guess Wagner is going for a Sandman-esque feeling of filling in the backstory as things go along, but without a strong set of stories in the present day, it just isn’t working; it feels like the series is still in its prologue, and nearly a year in it really should have gotten started moving wherever it’s going.

Kaluta is a fine artist, although he could use a stronger inker who works in heavier lines, as his light touch with the blacks tends to get washed out once the pages are colored. Oddly, the inking on the cover works better, but the composition is downright odd, with the character’s outsized head and hands compared to her body; not one of his better ones.

While I’d say this is a series that’s had trouble finding its groove, I suspect it’s actually working out exactly as writer Matt Wagner has planned. I’ve just found it slow and not very exciting.

Guardians of the Galaxy #14

Nova #25

The odd thing about Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova coming out the same week is that it’s so clear how much better Nova is than Guardians, even though they’re both set in Marvel’s space milieu and they’re both written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Both books have had rotating artists throughout their run, and Guardians has the clearly-better penciller this month in Brad Walker (whose sense of form and rendering appeals to my preferences), but it’s the writing that sets Nova apart.

Both series have had a problem in that they keep getting interrupted by silly crossover events that sometimes don’t make any sense for them to be involved with (Secret Invasion), and otherwise detract from the ongoing story in the title itself (War of Kings, the current event). Nova has done a very good job of weaving its ongoing story into these disruptions, while Guardians has gotten completely sidetracked by them each time. Since Guardians also has a large (and growing) cast of characters to manage, that means little about the book really gets the attention it deserves.

Not that there aren’t good bits about Guardians: Star-Lord’s sardonic outlook is consistently amusing, and seeing Warlock take on Emperor Vulcan and the Imperial Guard here is quite a treat, leading in to what looks like a huge slug-fest next month. But overall the book is flailing around a lot and not really going anywhere, which is disappointing. Editorial really needs to just leave it alone for a year or two to find its own path without all these interruptions.

Nova, on the other hand, has remained fairly focused in Richard Ryder’s relationship with the Nova-force and its sentient overseer, the Worldmind, who have been embedded in his head and body since before the series began. It all came to a head recently when the Worldmind went around the bend, formed a new Nova Corps, and ejected Richard from it. Richard acquired Quasar’s quantum bands and has his showndown with the Worldmind here, which is quite effective and comes to a satisfying resolution (although not a conclusion to the overall plot thread). Despite the new Corps dealing with the War of Kings event, Richard’s main story has remained largely divorced from it, which has made the series much more enjoyable than Guardians.

I look forward to the day that crossover events are no longer big sellers and we can just have good, ongoing stories which drives sales. Sadly, I doubt that day with come anytime soon, and consequently that means a lot of otherwise-promising comics are going to be less than they could be.

Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #6 With Archaia’s financial problems apparently behind them, Mouse Guard has finished up its second series in the last couple of months. Although it’s been a more textured tale than the first one was, I don’t think it’s been a better one. But admittedly the long delays and the fact that it no longer feels novel may have to do with that. Petersen’s artwork is still nifty – the coloring especially is fabulous – and this month we get to see the Guard’s mounts: rabbits! There’s a sense that there is an over-arching story connecting things, involving the Black Axe, the fabled champion of the mice, which has played a central role in the first two series, so I’m curious to see where that’s going to go, if it’s going to be an epic tale or just a series of loosely-connected ones.

I think the biggest flaw in the series is that Petersen the writer keeps too much emotional distance between the reader and the characters, though since the characters are mice with not-very-expressive faces, that’s a hard divide to bridge anyway. But there are some moments in this issue which could be quite poignant, but fall short because the mice seem so reserved and unexpressive.

But overall this is still quite a good series, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #13, by Rick Remender, Pat Olliffe & Jerry Ordway (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #18, by Marv Wolfman & Phil Winslade (DC)
  • Fables #77, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #2 of 5, by Geoff Johns, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #19, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham & Nathan Massengill (DC)
  • Annihilation Conquest: Book One TPB, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Mike Perkins, Keith Giffen, Timothy Green II & Victor Olazaba, and Christos Gage, Mike Lilly & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Astonishing X-Men #27, by Warren Ellis & Simone Bianchi (Marvel)
  • RASL #3, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon)
  • Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #3 of 5, by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & Lauren Pettapiece (Red 5)
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #2 For sure, Legion of 3 Worlds is one of the most fanboy-geek-wankery type books ever published. Still, if you’re a Legion fan, then issue #2 is almost as much fun as issue #1. If you’re not a Legion fan, then you probably won’t care and you’ve already moved on.

The opening sequence catches up with some of the characters from the later days of the Legion: Blok, the White Witch, and Rond Vidar, who’s now the last Green Lantern in the universe. (The fate of the Green Lanterns was one of the more interesting threads from the Levitz/Giffen Legion, which I mostly found to be greatly overrated.) After that, the story is partly watching the new Legion of Super-Villains organize itself around Superboy-Prime, and partly Brainiac 5 executing his plan to bring the Legions of two other worlds in to help them, using – get this – the crystal ball that the Justice League used to contact the Justice Society from Earth-2 in Justice League of America #21 back in 1963.

(Aside: Okay, the multiverse continuity at DC is completely screwed up at this point, but this does seem to suggest that the classic Legion shown here is not from New Earth, but it from some other Earth-1, since the JLA from New Earth would have had no need to contact the JSA from Earth-2, since New Earth already has a JLA! No doubt Geoff Johns thought using the crystal ball was just a neat in-joke, though, rather than an actual clue as to the current state of things.)

Other than the obligatory in-fighting among the teams (used to comedic effect among the Brainiacs here), it’s hard to imagine a single Legion of Super-Villains putting up much of a fight against them. Only Prime, Validus, Earth-Man and Mordru have any hope of standing up to the heavy hitters. So presumably there’s going to be something else going on to complicate matters.

Pérez’s artwork is terrific, as always. I’m especially impressed with how he makes the classic Legion look like adults, while the other Legions are still kids; they’re all recognizably the same characters, yet all distinctive. You’d think most artists would be able to do this, but no one equals Pérez when it comes to this sort of stuff. Legion of 3 Worlds doesn’t quite measure up to his JLA/Avengers work, but it’s still outstanding.

Guardians of the Galaxy #5 Despite being a Secret Invasion (yawn) tie-in, Guardians of the Galaxy is still really cool: Drax kills everyone on the space station the Guardians are based on (which is the severed head of a Celestial floating beyond the edge of the universe), because that’s the easiest way to find out who the shape-shifting Skrulls on the station are, because when they die, they change back to their natural form, right? Fortunately, in this case death wears off after a little while, and it turns out the Skrulls aren’t what everyone assumes they are, and Cosmo, the station’s telepathic Russian canine security chief, persuades everyone of who they are. (Touch little pooch!)

And then everything hits the fan when the other Guardians find out what Star-Lord has been up to in founding the team, and Mantis reveals that the future she’d divined has gone off the rails – probably because of the arrival of Vance Astro and Starhawk from the 31st century Guardians.

More fanboy wanking? Unlike Legion of 3 Worlds, this series is basically self-contained, and I think it can be understood and enjoyed by people who aren’t familiar with the backstories of the characters – it might even be more fun for those readers. With this series, Abnett and Lanning are proving to be first-rate ideasmiths; I just hope they can be given enough latitude away from the cockamamie event tie-ins to really put on a show in this series.

Astonishing X-Men #27 Astonishing X-Men hasn’t been especially astonishing, but Warren Ellis does his best to make it entertaining by writing some of the funniest dialogue I’ve read in superhero comics in recent memory. For example:

Cyclops: What’ve you got?

Wolverine: Something from the bad old days, maybe.

Cyclops: Logan, this is us. The “bad old days” could be as recent as three weeks ago.

Or, when the Beast – a half-human, half-cat mutant – is talking to Cyclops with his girlfriend, Agent Brand, who I guess is an alien:

Beast: …Actually, what are you? “Girlfriend” doesn’t sound quite…

Brand: “Xenophiliac experimentation partner”?

Beast: […] Girlfriend.

Anyway, the story is shaping up to involve mutants from parallel worlds, and mutants impacted by the climax of House of M, when the Scarlet Witch turned most mutants back into normal humans. Ellis gets high marks for being an ideasmith himself, and I am enjoying the dialogue. He always seems to keep corporate-owned characters like the X-Men at arm’s length, though, so it’s hard to feel like we really know these characters. But at least this promises to be an interesting mystery and adventure.

This Week’s Haul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #14, by Mark Waid & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • Ex Machina #37, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #4 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Jamal Ingle & Robin Riggs, and Ron Marz, Fernando Pasarin & Matt Banning (DC)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #2, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • RASL #2, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)
  • Sparks #1 of 6, by Chris Folino & J.M. Ringuet (Catastrophic)
  • Dynamo 5: Moments of Truth vol 2 TPB, by Jay Faerber & Mahmud A. Asrar (Image)
Guardians of the Galaxy #2 Several clever things in Guardians of the Galaxy #2: First, a nice bit of redirection regarding what Captain America’s shield is doing in an ice meteor in the middle of space. Second, a nifty explanation of why the team is going to be named “Guardians of the Galaxy”, even though the term was originally applied to a team in the future. Ending up with a face-off with the guys I presume will be the main heavies in the title, at least to start with. Pretty good stuff, and not too heavy-handed. This title is looking better than I’d thought a month ago
RASL #2 If RASL #1 was disappointing for being nothing but set-up, issue #2 is a huge step forward in advancing the story and explaining what’s going on. We find out what RASL is (although not what it means), what the main character is doing (he’s moving between dimensions), and get some hints of both his backstory and who’s chasing him. So it’s got me hooked and I’m looking forward to where Smith takes all this. Bone was uneven at times, but ultimately it was a lot of fun even if it dragged in places. RASL is shaping up to be a completely different sort of story, and it’s exciting to see an artist as talented as Smith following up on his magnum opus with something that looks equally promising (quite different in that regard from Dave Sim’s Glamourpuss).
Sparks #1 Sparks is the first book from Catastrophic Comics, which seems like a “tempting fate” name for a company, but it’s also founded by William Katt, who played the title role in the old TV show The Greatest American Hero. Although it seems like Catastrophic’s publicity has mainly revolved around Katt’s name, he’s neither the writer nor the artist (nor, for that matter, the editor), although he is credited as the creator of the series, along with writer Chris Folino.. But it’s not clear what his involvement is beyond that. Still, small matter.

The story concerns the titular character, who grows up believing his calling is to be a superhero, but who has no superpowers. The issue also opens with Sparks showing up at a police station where he says, “I want to report my murder”, though it’s not clear whether he’s actually dead, or just very badly beaten. The rest of the issue is in flashback, where Sparks embarks on his heroing career, finding true love with a superheroine. And then things turn bad.

I’m not quite sure what prompted me to order this book, although I might have just been intrigued by the notion of a dead hero trying to find his own killer. The first issue is okay, though it’s entirely the set-up for the rest of the mini-series. f J.M. Ringuet’s art style is not my thing, I’m afraid; it’s dark and muddy and angular, just not polished or detailed enough for my tastes. So I think any chance this series has to be really good will rest on the story being surprising and fresh. We’ll see.

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #9, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Clandestine #4 of 5, by Alan Davis & Mark Farmer (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #1, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • newuniversal: shockfront #1, by Warren Ellis, Steve Kurth & Andrew Hennessy (Marvel)
  • The Twelve #5 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Weston & Garry Leach (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1946 #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart & Paul Azaceta (Dark Horse)
  • Project Superpowers #3 of 6, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Carlos Paul (Dynamite)
  • Locke & Key #4 of 6, by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
Guardians of the Galaxy #1 As much as I’ve enjoyed Abnett & Lanning’s work on the Annihilation and Nova books, I’m a little skeptical of Guardians of the Galaxy. Why? Well, the premise consists of throwing together a bunch of space-based heroes – who have almost nothing in common except that they’re space-based and came together during the recent crises – under a title which used to belong to a completely unrelated team. This screams “trademark protection” to me, and while I’m sure DnA are going to give it their best shot, I have a nagging cynicism that they were basically asked by Marvel to come up with a title which fit the bill.

With that bit of negativity out of the way, the first issue is pretty good. It features the usual trial-by-fire, also setting up what I presume will be a long-term foe for the group. There are some strong and volatile personalities in the group, which could be the fulcrum for making the book work: Peter Quill (Star Lord) is probably the most qualified to lead the team in a strategic sense, but his self-doubt and lack of powers might not make him the best candidate for keeping the people in line. Especially with members like Mantis who tend to quietly pursue their own agendas.

The book’s best hope, I think, is to either have a strong underlying plot, or to juggle the relationships among its characters in a delicate manner, the latter being the key to the success of Wolfman & Pérez’ New Teen Titans of years past. I think DnA could pull off either approach, but the book’s set-up will make it more of a challenge for them.

Fresh from his trial run on Nova, Paul Pelletier’s artwork is fine. Much better than the 3 issues from his brief run on Fantastic Four that I read, which looked like he was mailing it in (figuratively speaking). I’d appreciate a little more detail, but he’s certainly got the dynamic look down.

All-in-all, the first issue of Guardians is a little above average, but it will be the next 11 issues which really indicate whether it’s going to be a good one or not.

newuniversal: shockfront #1 I was surprised when newuniversal abruptly halted after 6 issues. Was it a mini-series, though it wasn’t marked as such? Did it not do well and was cancelled? Did Ellis just up and leave, since he recently said of work-for-hire projects, “It’s as simple as this — if I don’t own it, I’m not going to spend my life on it”?

Apparently none of the above, since Ellis is back with a new artist on a second series, which picks up only a little while after the first one left off. It continues his edgier riff on Marvel’s old New Universe characters, and this time he’s filling in some more of the backstory and adding some more structure to what the “white event” means, which I appreciate (I always appreciate structure).

Steve Kurth has a somewhat more traditional art style than did Salvador Larroca (the first series’ artist), but he’s still got the detail and semi-photorealistic layouts, so all in all I think he’s just as good as Larroca was. Of more interest will be to see where Ellis is going with this series. I’m still a little frustrated that the final issue of Planetary hasn’t come out, even though I know he can finish lengthy projects, as he did with Transmetropolitan. So I hope newuniversal doesn’t end prematurely in the middle of the story.