November 2017
S M T W T F S
« Sep    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Archives

  • 2017
  • 2016
  • 2015
  • 2014
  • 2013
  • 2012
  • 2011
  • 2010
  • 2009
  • 2008
  • 2007
  • 2006

Categories

  • Film
  • Journals & Blogs
  • Places
  • Reviews

This Week's Haul

  • Batman and Robin #6, by Grant Morrison, Philip Tan & Jonathan Glapion (DC)
  • Batman/Doc Savage Special, by Brian Azzarello & Phil Noto (DC)
  • Booster Gold #26, by Dan Jurgens, Mike Norton & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Fables #90, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #42, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • JSA vs. Kobra #6 of 6, by Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • R.E.B.E.L.S. #10, by Tony Bedard & Andy Clarke (DC)
  • The Unwritten #7, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1947 #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart, Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon (Dark Horse)
  • Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #8 of 8, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
Batman and Robin #6 The second arc of Batman and Robin has taken some criticism due to the fairly extreme stylistic change from Frank Quitely (on the first arc) to Philip Tan (on this one). It is an extreme change, but I thought Tan was fine in issue #4; the problem is his style got progressively looser to the point where it’s actually rather grotesque in this issue. It’s still serviceable, but yeah, I can see where the complaints are coming from.

Then again, the story’s not much, either. The main villain, the Red Hood (a.k.a. Jason Todd, formerly Robin) is portrayed as a vicious counterpoint to Batman, although as a despised character who died and came back to life, it’s hard to care about his motivations. Another villain, Flamingo, shows up here to take out the Red Hood, until Batman and Robin show up to stop them both. It’s a perfect example of how Morrison seems to pack just too much into his stories at times, and Flamingo’s arrival undercuts the drama between Batman and the Hood, which was underdeveloped to start with.

So far, Batman and Robin has been more style than substance, with Morrison unable to properly develop his themes or his characters. In fits and starts he’s pulled together some interesting pieces, but hasn’t really used them effectively so far.

Batman/Doc Savage Special The Batman/Doc Savage special appears to be an introduction to something called “The First Wave”, which from the back of this issue seems to be an upcoming series by Brian Azzarello taking a group of pulp and golden age heroes and introducing them in a new setting, apparently in the present day, but with a mix of styles dating from the 1920s to today. So here we have Batman (at the beginning of his career) and Doc Savage (an established hero), to be joined later by The Avenger, The Spirit, Black Canary and the Blackhawks. I’ve always liked the notion of relaunching established characters in a different milieu, but this is perhaps not the set I’d have chosen. But Azzarello seems to write a lot of pulp-influenced stuff, and it’s his show, so here we have it.

This story involves Batman suspected of murder and Doc Savage coming to Gotham to bring him in. Batman wields a pair of guns (but not to kill), Doc uses his muscle, and the two of course come to a meeting of the minds by the end. Chris Sims’ critique of the story is mostly spot-on, although I disagree about Batman using guns, a facet of his character here that doesn’t bother me, although his wishy-washy use of them is annoying, I agree. Batman has always been a character who could use guns, but mostly hasn’t for various reasons depending on his interpretation. But Sims hits the nail on the head as far as the plot goes: It’s obvious, and dragged out. Additionally, the characters just aren’t very likeable, and Bruce Wayne in particular is portrayed in a very annoying manner (honestly I think the occasional “Bruce Wayne, airhead playboy” schtick that some writers drag out is just plain stupid, and not in the least funny).

So overall this is a pretty weak introduction of a fairly interesting series. But The First Wave will have to be a lot better than this to be worth reading.

JSA vs. Kobra #6 JSA vs. Kobra was a 6-issue miniseries which sort-of spun off from the JSA’s battles with the fictional terrorist organization Kobra from their previous regular series, which doesn’t really explain why it’s being published now. It also relates to Mr. Terrific being one of the leaders of Kobra’s good-guy opposite number, the spy organization Checkmate.

Other than the JSA, none of these organizations matters one whit to me, and the series doesn’t relate to the team’s current adventures at all. So why bother publishing this? And heck, why did I bother buying it?

It’s also not much good. Its plot strives to be a games-within-games match in which Kobra is playing several different angles at once (although to what end, I can’t figure out; if Kobra’s angling for world domination, they’re doing a crappy job of it), while the JSA tries to outmaneuver them. There’s some ongoing tension between the JSA’s co-leaders, Power Girl and Mr. Terrific, mainly over whether Terrific owes his loyalties to the JSA or to Checkmate (the latter of which has been infiltrated by Kobra spies), but it never feels very suspenseful and is resolved almost offhandedly.

Eric S. Trautmann’s script (he’s an author I’ve never heard of before this series) is pretty mechanical, and Don Kramer’s pencils are pretty but not very dynamic. He does seem to meet one of the main criteria for a JSA penciller, though, that being an ability to put Power Girl’s chest front-and-center:

JSA vs. Kobra #6 page 12

At the end of the series, Kobra has been defeated, but obviously will come back in the future. The JSA hasn’t managed to eradicate the group, and none of the JSAers have really had any satisfying story arcs. The whole thing is played very low key despite the high stakes.

If you enjoy superhero pseudo-spy yarns, then this might be for you. Everyone else, give it a pass.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #10 R.E.B.E.L.S. #10 is one of two Blackest Night ring giveaway tie-ins this week (the other being Booster Gold #26, a series I already buy regularly). R.E.B.E.L.S. is a revival of the 90s series, which was the successor to L.E.G.I.O.N., itself a 20th century version of Legion of Super-Heroes that was launched in 1989 when the Legion was struggling to work out its continuity. If that doesn’t sound like one of the least-necessary revivals ever, then I don’t know what is.

Tony Bedard is a decent superhero writer, and Andy Clarke (whose name is misspelled on the cover – way to go DC) has an interesting style reminiscent of Steve Dillon. But issue #10 drops us ring-acquiring drive-by readers into the middle of an on-going story involving the nominal heroes (leader Vril Dox is more of an anti-hero) teaming up with some long-time DC villains to fight an even bigger long-time villain, Starro the Conqueror, who’s been transformed into a rather different entity than his already-chilling original form. (By the way, you can see an homage to the original Starro in the always-entertaining webcomic Plan B.)

The Black Lanterns are almost perfunctory to this story, which focuses on Starro enlisting the aid of Dox’s even-more-super-intelligent son, backing the R.E.B.E.L.S. into a corner, although it looks like next issue will involve a fight between Dox and the Black Lantern version of a former member of the team, as the issue ends on a cliffhanger.

Still, in a book headlined by a rather despicable character, mostly featuring other C-listers I don’t really care about, I might pick up the next issue but this isn’t enough to make me sign on for the long haul, especially since I lost interest in the original version of this team over 15 years ago. (Don McPherson liked it better than I do, though.)

B.P.R.D.: 1947 #5 B.P.R.D.: 1947 was one of the best recent stories of this long-running series, but unfortunately 1948 doesn’t follow it up as strongly. Trevor Bruttenholm mostly stays on the sidelines, and the ultimate point of the story is to drive home to “Broom” that the department’s mission means he’ll be sending a lot of people out to their deaths, and can he live with that? This last issue is pretty good in that regard, but the first four, which focus on the mission in question, were pretty tedious, hamstrung by the fact that Broom stays at home the whole time.

I guess there will be a 1949 at some point, but since I expect to bail on B.P.R.D. after the long-running “War on Frogs” storyline concludes, I may not be around to see it.

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #8 Similarly, while Hellboy generally has been stronger than B.P.R.D. over the years, The Wild Hunt has been one of his weakest series. Not only does the mythical Wild Hunt only put in a token appearance across 8 issues, but the story involves examining Hellboy’s surprising lineage, and an equally surprising – and, honestly, rather silly – development which comes to a head in this issue. It had me shaking my head, as Hellboy has always done best by staying away from popular mythology, and bring King Arthur into the mix as happens here feels very out-of-place for the series.

Hellboy is at his best when he’s an ass-kicking, wise-cracking fighter of larger-than-life mythical monsters, but over the years Mignola has shrunk that side of his character and expanded him being pulled through various scenarios in scenes that are more talking that action, and that’s a lot less fun. It’s like Mignola’s fundamentally lost touch with the character, and that’s too bad, because he’s one of the most memorable comics creations of the last 30 years.

This Week's Haul

Powered by the love and affection of the Wizard convention circuit, it’s time for another round of reviews:

  • Doom Patrol #4, by Keith Giffen, Justiniano & Livesay, and J.M. DeMatteis & Kevin Maguire (DC)
  • Secret Six #15, by John Ostrander & Jim Calafiore (DC)
  • Astonishing X-Men #32, by Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning (Marvel)
  • Immortal Weapons #4 of 5, by Duane Swierczynski, Khari Evans, Victor Olazaba & Allen Martinez, and Hatuey Diaz (Marvel)
  • Nova #1, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • The Secret History book six, by Jean-Pierre Pécau & Igor Kordey (Archaia)
  • Absolution #3 of 6, by Christos Gage & Roberto Viacava (Avatar)
  • The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #2 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Age of Reptiles #1 of 4, by Ricardo Delgado (Dark Horse)
  • Witchfinder: In The Service of Angels #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #36, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Star Trek: Romulans: Schism #3 of 3, by John Byrne (IDW)
Doom Patrol #4 I admit it: I’m a sucker. I signed up with my comics shop for DC’s Blackest Night promotional ring giveaway. It’s not like I don’t have enough random crap around my house that I need a bunch of plastic rings, but something about the idea appealed to me just enough to sign up. The catch is that I’ll buy single issues of a bunch of comic books I don’t usually buy, so we’ll see if any of them are good enough to me to keep buying them. And you get to go along for the ride with me!

And I’m far from the only one jumping on this bandwagon: Lots of other people have, too, which means a big sales spike for some DC titles. Which probably means more of this promotional gimmick in the future. But that’s okay, I don’t have to buy into any more of them if I don’t want to.

Doom Patrol is the latest incarnation of the venerable Silver Age comic featuring normal people who acquired super powers which made them outcasts from the rest of society. At its best, the series plumbed the depths of this premise better than its Marvel counterpart, The X-Men; at its worst, it was routine superhero fare. Not a bad legacy for a book that was – aside the bizarre Grant Morrison run in the 80s – a B-list title. But as with many such titles from DC, the book has a history so convoluted I really can’t figure out its continuity, including a re-launch by John Byrne (which I skipped) which seemed to throw all previous continuity out the door (which, honestly, is fine with me) and return to the original cast of Robotman, Negative Man, Elasti-Woman and the Chief. Apparently Infinite Crisis restored the team’s previous continuity, which makes absolutely no sense to me, and it appears from the Wikipedia article that DC went to greater-than-usual lengths to explain away the inconsistencies. Sigh.

So this issue – which features the deceased members of the “new” Doom Patrol of the late 70s coming back to fight the “new original” team of this decade – makes my head hurt, since I understand just enough of the continuity to know who these people are, but not enough to be able to make any sense of how these two teams could coexist in their current state. Would it be easier for a new reader to make heads or tails of this book, or harder? I really have no idea.

Is the story any good? Well, it’s not awful, but it’s little more than a collection of disparate fights, and I don’t have enough attachment to any of the characters to feel the emotions that I’m presumably supposed to feel about the dead characters coming back, and honestly the main Blackest Night title has pretty much gone the distance with that premise anyway. The issue ends on a cliffhanger which is interesting enough that I just might buy the next issue, but it’s a close thing. As an introduction to the series, this issue isn’t a very good one. The art by Justiniano and Livesay (what is it with single-name artists these days, anyway?) is pretty good, solid, dynamic, stylistic enough to grab my attention, especially in the last two pages. If you like Doug Mahnke’s or Ariel Olivetti’s art, you’ll find the art here to your taste.

The issue features a back-up story by the creative team of Justice League International introducing a set of fembot villains for the Metal Men, another B-list team of Silver Age heroes, and who barely appear in the story. I wasn’t a fan of the jokey nature of the JLI era, so this story didn’t do much for me. (As back-ups go, the Blue Beetle story in the back of Booster Gold has been much better.)

So I can’t recommend Doom Patrol #4 for anything more than the promotional ring.

Age of Reptiles: The Journey #1 Ricardo Delgado published two Age of Reptiles mini-series a decade or so ago, and as an unreformed childhood dinosaur lover, I loved them. They’re serious “this is what it could have been like” stories of the giant lizards hunting, eating, fighting, protecting their young, only a little anthropomorphized to give the story a plot. Delgado’s artwork brings the creatures to life like nothing else I can recall seeing. They’re well worth seeking out.

Now the reptiles are back in The Journey, the first issue of which has left me slightly baffled. As you can see from the cover to the left, all the animals seem to be heading somewhere, and there are hints inside that they might be looking for warmer climate as the earth cools, and the mix of beasts could be from the late Cretaceous period. But the story seems a little buried in the set-up. Still, as I recall from the first two series, it’s the whole that matters, not just the individual issues.

Delgado’s art is still great, although it seems a little less detailed than in the past. Maybe my expectations for this series were so high that I was bound to be disappointed by the first issue. But I’ll still be picking up the whole thing, so check back in a few months to see if the whole outweighs the sum of the parts.

Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels #5 I’ve been on the Hellboy bandwagon for so long that I guess I’m just jaded. Some of the stories are very good, most are okay, few are bad. When push comes to shove, Witchfinder is closer to the “bad” end of the spectrum. Sir Edward Grey was a (fictional) occult investigator in the Victorian era, much like Hellboy in the 20th century. His adventure in this 5-issue series just didn’t make a lot of sense to me, trying to stop a demon killing people in London by reuniting it with its bones, and with various occult stops along the way. The story was too convoluted for me to sink my teeth into, and there wasn’t a single character worth caring about. Overall I think the series was just too clever for its own good, and it lost sight of telling a good story.
Star Trek: Romulans: Schism #3 John Byrne’s Star Trek Romulans series apparently comes to an end this month, a bit to my surprise as I’d thought this was going to be another 5-issue series.

As I’ve said before, Byrne’s telling easily the most entertaining Star Trek stories I’ve read in years, maybe decades, and he has the visual look of the classic Trek series down pat. His Romulan story has been a shadow history of the Klingon/Romulan alliance implied by the third season of classic Trek. The Hollow Crown described how the Klingons engineered the death of the Romulan Emperor to put their own puppet on the throne to get around the Organian Treaty forced on them with the Federation. Schism is the other end of that story, as hostilities among the Klingons, Federation and Romulans come to a head in a fairly nifty (and wonderfully well-illustrated) space battle.

The only real downside to the story is that it ends rather abruptly, with a literal deus-ex-machina with no believable explanation for why it didn’t arise previously. The story ends seemingly setting up yet another arc in the same storyline, but I understand this is the last chapter, so I’m not quite sure what’s going on.

That’s really the achilles heel in Byrne’s Trek stories: They’re entertaining, but the endings are abrupt, ambiguous, and/or perplexing so it’s hard to see what the point of the story is. It’s frustrating, even as light adventure fare (which after all is what Star Trek is). All the pieces are intriguing enough that if Byrne keeps writing ’em and IDW keeps printing ’em then I’ll keep publishing ’em, hoping that eventually all the pieces fall into place and he produces a truly great one.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

I quite liked the first Hellboy film, which came out back in 2004. Despite a plot which didn’t make a lot of sense, it was stylish and funny and basically a satisfying action-adventure film. So I was enthusiastic about the sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army. I’d hoped that director Guillermo del Toro had learned through doing Pan’s Labyrinth to tell a better story and that Hellboy II would be a more serious, dramatic and sensical film than its predecessor.

My hope was completely misplaced, and I was quite disappointed in the film.

The film opens with a scene in the 1950s in which Hellboy’s father, Trevor Bruttenholm (John Hurt), tells the story of the Golden Army, an indestructible, unbeatable mechanical army created by goblins and controlled by elves to fight mankind, until the king of the elves was saddened by the bloodshed and came to a truce with humanity and agreed to put the Golden Army away forever. Unfortunately his son, Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), feels this has doomed the elves to eventual extinction, and embarks on a plan to gain the three pieces of the crown which can control the army, and awaken them and conquer the world.

In the present day, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is living with Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), but their relationship is rocky at best. During a mission to clean up after an attack by Prince Nuada, Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) learns that Liz is pregnant, and Hellboy reveals his existence to the world, to the frustration of his boss, Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor). This causes the government to send the ectoplasmic Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth Macfarlane) to take control of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. The team goes to seek the mythical Troll Market, where they meet and rescue Prince Nuada’s twin sister Nuala (Anna Walton), who has the third piece of the crown, and whom Abe falls in love with. But Nuada tracks them down and critically wounds Hellboy, forcing the team to decide whether to deal with him or try to defeat him, even though they haven’t had much success so far. They end up going to confront him in Ireland at the resting place of the Golden Army.

It’s difficult to know where to begin with how badly this film goes wrong. Fundamentally, Hellboy is about two things: Modern unearthing and explorations of ancient mythical beings, and big monsters hitting each other. So while the myth of the Golden Army is a fine starting point, the sequence in which the team tries to fight off a horde of ravenous tooth fairies is just disgusting and no fun at all. Seeing people eaten alive is just gross, and I wish we could declare a moratorium on it in films like this. Yuck.

The romance between Hellboy and Liz, and also between Abe and Nuala, both are handled so heavy-handedly that they’re pretty painful to watch. There’s a scene in which Hellboy and Abe get drunk talking about women, and although it has a couple of funny lines, it really feels wrongheaded. Not to mention rather insulting to Liz, who’s mostly treated as a fifth wheel, even if she is one who can blow up a building with her mind.

Hellboy isn’t a very subtle character, but he acts so stupidly here from time to time that it’s hard to be sympathetic to him, and seeing Johann teach him a lesson seems well-deserved, but also quite a departure from the comic books, in which he has both brawn and brains. Del Toro tries awfully hard to show that Hellboy is more like the monsters he fights than the people he protects and that they’ll eventually turn on him, but again he beats us over the head with it – and then just sort of drops it in the latter part of the film – that it’s completely unconvincing. Johann experiences a sudden and unexplained change in attitude late in the film as well, which really makes no sense at all.

The best part of the film is the final sequence, which starts with them meeting a goblin who agrees to take them to the army and also find someone who can heal Hellboy – which turns out to be the Angel of Death. And then we have the confrontation with Nuada and the Army itself, and the Army is indeed very cool and badass, and the final fate of Nuada is also quite well done. Even before they got to the Angel I was thinking, “Gee, I want a lot more of this and a lot less of what we’ve been watching for the first 90 minutes.”

I think Del Toro really lost sight of what makes Hellboy interesting and fun, and tried way too hard to make some points about Hellboy’s unique situation and his relationship with Liz, and it all sunk quickly under the weight of its heavy-handedness. So rather than being an improvement on the first film, Hellboy II feels like a bit of an embarrassment. And a huge disappointment.

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #5, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Countdown to Infinite Crisis #20 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, Howard Porter & Art Thibert (DC)
  • Fables #68, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Salvation Run #2 of 7, by Bill Willingham, Sean Chen & Walden Wong (DC)
  • Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #4 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Fantastic Four #552, by Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Nova #9, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves, Wellington Diaz & Nelson Pereira (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #13, by Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson & Peter Snejbjerg (Dynamite)
Salvation Run #2 The weird thing about Salvation Run #2 is that it features almost none of the same characters who headlined issue #1, which is to say that the Flash’s rogues gallery is shoved to the side in favor of, first, a group of truly marginal villains trying to survive in the alien world to which they’ve been exiled, and second, the Joker and another heavyweight villain who arrives at the end of the issue.

Willingham goes all-out with the brutality here, with minor characters being gruesomely mauled, and showing that the Joker – whom you’d think wouldn’t be in a great position to survive on an alien jungle world inasmuch as he has no super-powers and mainly relies on lurking in the shadows – can adapt with the best of them even among this group of psychopaths. Unfortunately, as much as I like Sean Chen’s artwork, I don’t think he draw a great Joker, and this is especially brought home by Dan Jurgens’ rendition in Booster Gold this same week.

We also get to see what a bunch of bastards the current Suicide Squad are, which seems like a rather simplistic reading of John Ostrander’s nuanced portrayal in Suicide Squad, which also came out this week.

In other words, it seems like Willingham is phoning in the script for this one, as it relies mainly on being shocking and bloody and not much else. So – as the saying goes – if you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you’ll like. Personally, I’m disappointed.

Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #4 When you’re Grant Morrison you can get away with outlandish things in the mainstream DC Universe, such as taking the brain of General Wade Eiling – one of the main supporting characters in the 80s series Captain Atom – and planting it in the body of the indestructible construct The Shaggy Man.

But when you’re John Ostrander, you can go Morrison one better and integrate this idea into your own series, which is what we see in Suicide Squad #4, as Amanda Waller assembles a new Squad and recruits Eiling into it, despite the risks he presents. He also reestablishes the relationship of two of the main characters from the original series, even though one of them is the son of the original one.

Ostrander actually reminds me a lot of Bill Willingham as a writer, in that both of them take very calculated approaches to plotting their stories, and both can be cold and brutal in presenting the ramifications of their characters’ actions. I think Ostrander at his best is a slightly better writer, though, because I think his skill at characterization is deeper: Even his villains have the redeeming or likeable or sympathetic points (unless Ostrander clearly doesn’t want them to, a trait he reserves for only a few characters). And Suicide Squad is Ostrander near his best. Not only does it make me hope this mini-series spawns a new ongoing series after it, it makes me want to pick up the first series and re-read it.

The artwork by Javier Pina and Robin Riggs is also excellent, although Pina doesn’t quite have the flair for facial expressions to make the art really shine. He handles the fantastic visuals and the action scene just fine, though, and you can’t always have everything. Also, Riggs is a much better inker for Pina than the inkers he had on Manhunter, with a much smoother line which enhances Pina’s elegant layouts.

This is a really good series, and I still have no idea what the last 4 issues will be about. But it’s so good despite its unorthodox set-up that I expect it will be terrific whatever it is.

Nova #9 Nova #9 concludes Nova’s adventure fighting zombies in the severed head of a Celestial beyond the edge of the universe – a premise made for Chris Sims. There’s a lot to like here: Wellington Alves might not be quite as good an artist as his predecessor, Sean Chen, but he’s not far off, and he seems to be influenced by Stuart Immonen’s style, which is also a good thing. And Nova uses the tools at his disposal to deal with the zombie threat in a clever manner, and he heads off on his next adventure with some new allies behind him, and an old thread following him.

Some elements of the issue left me scratching my head, though: The zombie battle ended with a lack of closure regarding the central threat or the alien heroes he took over. It felt conceptually messy a threat with little reason for being, and Nova at its best (especially the first three issues) has been heavy on exploring reason or the lack thereof for things the hero encounters.

The issue also ends with a sort of crossroads for the series’ direction: Nova is still infested by the Phalanx technovirus, as are some of his former allies. Knowhere seems like a handy location for Nova to try to recreate the Nova Corps (which were destroyed – other than our hero – in the first Annihilation series). 9 issues in, I think it’s time for the series to establish its direction, or risk being the directionless muddle that Ms. Marvel became.

To be fair, the Annihilation Conquest issues (#4-7) were basically a distraction from the overall series, so I’ll be patient and see if Abnett and Lanning get the series back on solid ground. But I usually expect that after a year a series will be delivering on its promise. Nova started with plenty of promise, and by that measure it has 3 issues to start delivering.

B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #5 I’m running out of interest in the B.P.R.D. series of mini-series. This latest series was a set-up to reveal something about one of the main characters, but all of the interesting stuff happened in the last issues. The first four issues could easily have been compressed into a single issue. And then this last issue has a dangling ending – which won’t be picked up in the next mini-series, since that one takes place in the 1940s. So we’ll have to wait ’til the middle of 2008 for more progress on the main story.

B.P.R.D. is a perfect example of “uncompressed” storytelling: It lingers over details, presumably to build up suspense (it is a horror title, after all), but mostly it just feels slow. And since it’s a series of mini-series, it’s rare that anything important to the central story gets resolved. And honestly the individual stories are not very memorable; they’ve started to all feel rather the same.

So why have I been buying it for so long? Well, I knew after the first couple of series that it was going to be a long-haul story, but without having any idea how long the haul would be, I figured I’d keep reading and see where it was going. But there’s no sign that it’ll come to a conclusion any time soon, and I’m running out of interest.

Hellboy started off with a big bang, and as a series of individual stories each of which was inventive and weighty-feeling on its own. But Mike Mignola’s horror franchise has ended up as a very even-tempered series of undistinguished series which feel increasingly undistinguished. I don’t know whether publishing so many issues so regularly has diluted Mignola’s energy and creativity, or if he’s just not as interested in series he’s not drawing himself. Or maybe Hellboy and B.P.R.D. have just run their course.

But at this point I’m mainly buying the franchise on inertia. I’ve certainly done this many times before with other series, but once I realize that I’m doing it, that’s usually a harbinger of the end of the line for me.

This Week’s Haul

A big haul this week!

  • Booster Gold #2, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Countdown #33 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, Carlos Magno & Jay Leisten (DC)
  • Fables #65, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice Society of America #9, by Geoff Johns, Dale Eaglesham & Ruy Jose (DC)
  • Suicide Squad: Raise The Flag #1 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Welcome to Tranquility #10, by Gail Simone, Neil Googe & Scott Shaw! (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Nova #6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Sean Chen, Scott Hanna & Brian Denham (Marvel)
  • Thor #3, by J. Michael Straczynski, Oliver Coipel & Mark Morales (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Hellboy: The Troll Witch and Others TPB vol 7, by Mike Mignola, Richard Corben & P. Craig Russell (Dark Horse)
  • Castle Waiting #8, by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)

Justice Society of America #9The new JSA kicks off the storyline “Thy Kingdom Come”. Power Girl, as anyone who’s warped enough to be able to keep track of this stuff knows, is the last survivor of Earth-2 from before the Crisis on Infinite Earths, her cousin Kal-L (the Golden Age Superman) having died in the Infinite Crisis, making her feel especially alone. “Thy Kingdom Come” will feature the Superman from Kingdom Come, who’s a rather tortured soul who superficially resembles Power Girl’s cousin. This is also the world that current JSA member Starman spent some time in. So there’s a lot of interesting potential for character drama here. Is Geoff Johns the writer to realize the potential of this scenario? I tend to think of Johns as a plot-driven writer – characterization isn’t really his forte. But this could be the story in which he rises above his limitations.

Suicide Squad: Raise The Flag #1Weirdly, the first issue of Suicide Squad: Raise The Flag is missing both a chapter title and creator credits. I can’t remember the last time I read a book by a major publisher that was missing its credits. Must’ve been some oversight. I wonder if this is related to it being titled From The Ashes on the cover?

Anyway, this is the mini-series sequel to the 1980s series written by Ostrander and grittily illustrated by Luke McDonnell, who at the time was the artist of choice for hard-hitting series with a strong human component (e.g., Denny O’Neil’s Iron Man run when Tony Stark is overcome by his alcoholism, and the latter days of Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar run). The premise was that the government operated a covert squad with a few D-list superheroes, but which mainly consisted of incarcerated supervillains who would go on high-risk missions and have their sentences commuted if successful. Oh, plus they’d get their arms blown off by remote control if they tried to escape. The thing was a big balancing act among various personalities of varying degrees of stability, and it worked very well and is fondly remembered today.

Halfway through the original series, Rick Flag, one of the main heroic figures, died in a nuclear explosion in a foreign country. This series is based on the notion that he didn’t actually die. The first issue is a flashback in which key members of the old Squad travel to Russia to investigate a rumor that Flag is imprisoned there. It gives you a great feel for the original series – really, it’s like no time has passed at all – and ends on a cliffhanger implying what really happened.

Ostrander might never surpass his original GrimJack series (though it sounds like the Grinner might be moving over to a new site called ComicMix), but Suicide Squad is also excellent, and this looks like a terrific follow-on to the original.

Oh, and Javier Pina’s art is excellent – even better than his stuff on Manhunter.

Okay, each of the last three issues of Nova have ended with a cliffhanger in which things were worse for our heroes than they were an issue before. I don’t think it can go on much longer, though; I’m impressed it’s gotten this far!

Thor #3J. Michael Straczynski has been taking some flak for his portrayal of Iron Man in this issue of Thor (for instance, from Brian Cronin). I think this criticism is misguided, for two reasons: (1) Thor is justified, given that Iron Man created a subservient clone of him during the Civil War, and (2) Iron Man has been pretty much acting like a dick since the start of the Civil War, most of his actions have been morally indefensible, and frankly emotionally the reader wants someone to kick his ass: Thor, the Hulk, whoever. Iron Man’s not a hero anymore, and seeing Thor lay into him is just plain fun.

The real problem with this issue is also twofold: (1) The fight with Iron Man doesn’t advance the story, and (2) the story is boring. Thor going around to rescue his Asgardian brethren in the wake of, well, whatever happened to remove them from our plane of existence. The first issue was promising in that it suggested the return of the Thor/Don Blake dynamic, perhaps with actually giving Blake some characterization this time around. Blake hasn’t appeared since he changed into Thor at the beginning of #2, and “ponderous Thor” just isn’t very interesting. Kurt Busiek knew to lighten him up with “bombastic Thor” every so often, but Straczynski doesn’t seem to have learned the trick yet.

I figure if there isn’t some actual story advancement – and I mean more than just finding more Asgardians, because that’s just a boring old quest, not a decent plot – by issue #6 or so, then it might be time to give up on this one.

I’ve been less-than-kind to Mike Mignola’s comics recently, so I’m happy to say that Hellboy: The Troll Witch and Others mostly has the nifty stuff that I enjoy most about Hellboy: Hellboy kicking ass, making quips, and dealing with bizarrely inventive supernatural menaces. The centerpiece of the book, “Makoma”, is actually one of the weaker stories: A myth about Hellboy perhaps about one of his previous incarnations. The framing sequence, about a supernatural explorer’s club, is more interesting than the main story. The short stories are nifty, though. My favorite Hellboy stories seem to be those which feature or imply time travel so I think “Dr. Carp’s Experiments” is my favorite of the volume.

Though if you’re unfamiliar with Hellboy, you might want instead to start at the beginning.

This Week’s Haul

  • Countdown #34 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Keith Giffen & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes: Dominator War TPB vol 5, by Mark Waid, Tony Bedard, Barry Kitson & Kevin Sharpe (DC)
  • Metal Men #2 of 8, by Duncan Rouleau (DC)
  • Armageddon Conquest: Wraith #3 of 4, by Javier Grillo-Marxuach & Kyle Holz (Marvel)
  • Ms. Marvel #19, by Brian Reed, Aaron Lopresti & Matt Ryan (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hulk #110, by Grek Pak, Carlo Pagulayan & Jeffrey Huet (Marvel)
  • Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #1 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Jason Armstrong (Dark Horse)

Weirdly, Saiz & Palmiotti’s art on this week’s Countdown seems very reminiscent of Kevin Nowlan’s art, or maybe Nowlan over Brian Bolland. Not that this is a bad thing, but it’s always weird when art so closely resembles the style of another creator that I have to check the credits to see whether he’s the one who really drew it.

The Incredible Hulk #110The Incredible Hulk is tying into the World War Hulk storyline by focusing on Amadeus Cho, the seventh-smartest person in the world, who is also a teenager who believes in the Hulk. This week’s issue cuts to the core of Cho’s belief in the Hulk, despite the Hulk’s past as a rampaging beast and his current stated desire to kill the heroes who sent him into space. It’s a little hard to swallow, although it does suggest an ability that the Hulk’s had all along which seems to explain his behavior at times over the years. It’s the sort of thing that could open up some new avenues in the Hulk’s character, but I bet it will mostly fall by the wayside. I also wonder if Pak has written himself into a corner so that he won’t be able to resolve World War Hulk in any satisfying manner. Which would be a shame.

Pak does a terrific job of writing Cho, who’s always a couple of steps (or more) ahead of everyone else, who’s insightful as well as clever, and who’s a lively and sympathetic character. I’m still just a little suspicious that he’s not quite as selfless as he’s portrayed, but I’d certainly be pleased if he were. (He sure beats J. Michael Straczynski’s characterization of Reed Richards all hollow.)

I haven’t been following the other World ar Hulk tie-ins, just this and the main series, but really I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. These two series are opposite sides of the same coin, complementing each other nicely. It’s tough to write a tie-in when the book’s main character is the star of the main series, but after an awkward start Pak’s really made it all come together.

Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #1Lobster Johnson is Mike Mignola’s latest mini-series in his Hellboy universe: LJ is a pulp-style hero working in 1937, and The Iron Prometheus concerns his efforts to protect a man in a powerful electric suit from the evil ambitions of (of course) Nazis. Chris Sims picks it as his best of the week, but I was less impressed.

Although still enjoyable, these days Mignola’s books seem like a shadow of what they were back in the early Hellboy days. Mignola rarely draws anymore, although some of the artists he does employ do a good job of aping his style, as Jason Armstrong does here. I realize Mignola isn’t a very fast artist (when was the last time he draw a monthly ongoing book? Alpha Flight in the late 1980s?) and this is therefore his way to tell more stories on a semi-regular schedule, but these days he’s not even drawing the Hellboy: Darkness Calls mini-series. Still, at least he knows the trick of hiring good artists when he’s not doing the chores himself.

More serious, though, is the increasingly repetitive feeling I get from the stories: None of them really feel “special” anymore, and each one feels less distinctive than the last. Moreover, neither the Hellboy nor the B.P.R.D. series seem to be going anywhere. It seems like both have lost the heart of he early Hellboy series, and Lobster Johnson feels like more of the same.

I think the problem is this: Hellboy is the heart and soul of Mignola’s stuff – everyone else is too ethereal or too mysterious or too self-doubting or just too damned creepy to get behind as a character, while the beauty of Hellboy is that he’s this giant devil-thing with a stone hand who basically just wants to go kick some alien ass to make the world safe for freedom and apple pie. (The only character who could really equal Hellboy was Roger the Homunculous, who shuffled off the series’ immortal coil a while ago, alas.) In his own series Hellboy’s turned into a character who’s just being pushed around by various godlike figures, and no one else can fill the void in the other books.

Lobster Johnson falls into the “too ethereal” category, a ghostlike figure who comes and goes and speaks mysteriously, and occasionally fights a giant gorilla. I have little doubt that this will be an enjoyable series, but also that a year from now it will feel liks just one more cog in the giant Hellboy machine, and that someday I’ll look at the stack of cogs sitting on my bookshelf and wonder when the payoff to it all is coming.