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This Week’s Haul

A pretty big haul this week (well, last week now): Two series come to an end, I start catching up on a third series I missed out on, and one of my favorite web comics gets collected. Let’s jump in:

  • Final Crisis #7 of 7, by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke, & various inkers (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #23, by Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #50, by “Justin Thyme”, Ramon Bachs & Livesay (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #112-117, by Grek Pak, Fred Van Lente, Khoi Pham, Rafa Sandoval, Paul Neary & Roger Bonet (Marvel)
  • Marvels: Eye of the Camera #3 of 6, by Kurt Busiek & Jay Anacleto (Marvel)
  • Nova #21, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Echo #9, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation vol 1 HC, by Tom Siddell (Archaia)
  • Mister X: Condemned #2 of 4, by Dean Motter (Dark Horse)
  • The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #3 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
Final Crisis #7 It’s no secret that I think DC’s latest big event series, Final Crisis, has been a complete disaster. It started off with some promising elements, but then not only went off the rails in terms of plot and characterization (or lack of characterization), but worst of all, it’s been unrelentingly boring, devoid of either action or of the intriguing new ideas which are usually Grant Morrison’s stock-in-trade. So it’s something of a relief that the final issue came out this week, and I can now turn around and try to sell the pile of cow flop on eBay.

That said, this issue opens with what is easily the best scene in the series: The President of the United States – a black man – is ending a meeting with his advisors, and then heads off for a mission in his other job – as the Superman of his (alternate) world. It’s the natural extension of photos like this one, and it’s quite well done here.

Anyway, to recap the series: After a war in heaven which the New Gods lost, Darkseid has taken over the Earth, and himself been reborn in the body of police officer Dan Turpin. Half the world’s population is enslaved to him, including many superheroes. The rest of humanity is fighting to overthrow him, including Nix Uotan, a fallen Monitor of the many worlds. Superman returns from an extradimensional adventure to find Batman dead, but not before the darknight detective fatally wounded Darkseid. In this issue, the two Flashes (Wally West and a resurrected Barry Allen) lead death (in his guise as the Black Racer) to finish off Darkseid, at which point the dark Monitor Mandrakk appears to finish off the forces of good.

The series started off slow, with quick scenes full of portentiousness. It wasn’t a strong start, but it suggested that the various pieces would come together into a coherent narrative, and that just never happened. The last issue has a few extended scenes, but is still very choppy, with short scenes which never manage to convey the gravity the story strives for.

As many have observed, the general direction of the story is reminiscent of Morrison’s own story from JLA, “Rock of Ages”, in which a few members of the team end up in a future in which Darkseid has conquered the world. That story was more dramatic, faster-paced, and much more tense than Final Crisis ever reaches. Final Crisis stretches itself too thin, divorcing the reader from any emotional impact of the story, taking us too far from the characters that we never really get to know any of them or what they’re thinking.

And really, there’s no reason for the unusual approach to the storytelling: The ideas in Final Crisis are pretty pedestrian; there’s not much here we haven’t seen before, which is unusual since for most of his career Morrison’s strongest asset has been that he’s an “ideas guy”, throwing out interesting stuff which feels out-of-place in superhero comics, but integrating it well enough to make it engaging. This series has been the opposite: Ordinary superhero comic-book ideas told in an unorthodox manner which doesn’t service the ideas or the story at all well, making every aspect of the story feel clumsy and ultimately pointless. (You’d think that gathering the Supermen from every parallel world would qualify as neat stuff, but Alan Moore did it earlier and better in Supreme, so no.)

Speaking of pointless, so many details of the story feel pointless: Why was Barry Allen (the Silver Age Flash) brought back from the dead? He serves no meaningful role in the story; I assume it’s because DC editorial wanted to re-launch him in a new Flash series. Why bother with Mandrakk at all? He’s a bigger villain behind the big villain, but his presence seems a tacit admission that Darkseid just isn’t a big enough villain (which, frankly, I’ve known for years, but I’ve always thought Kirby’s DC characters fell somewhere between silly and stupid). Heck, why bring the Monitors into it at all, when their role in the story was marginal at best? Why bother with the teasing narrative at the start of this issue as if a few survivors of telling the story of the fall of Earth?

Brian Hibbs argues that the problem with the series is that it was positioned as the culmination of DC big boss Dan DiDio‘s tenure at the head of the universe, and that the expectations built up around the series aren’t really Morrison’s fault. But I think the story fails on its own merits, and while editorial usually deserves some blame for that, Morrison deserves a healthy portion himself. It started off weak and stayed weak, and I think it fell down in every aspect of storytelling: Ambition, plot, direction, purpose, characterization, dialogue. It did have a few moments that stood out – Barry being reunited with his wife, the President Superman opener in this issue – but they were few indeed.

Is Final Crisis the worst event series DC has ever done? Of course not: Millennium, at least, was much worse, and there are others you could make a case as being the worst. But Final Crisis was bad. Surprisingly bad, given the talent who worked on it. Morrison’s writing has always been hit-or-miss, but you could usually count on him to at least wow you with his out-there ideas and presentation thereof, but there was little of that here.

I wish we could stop with all the Big Event silliness and just get back to telling good stories. Or at least fun stories. This was neither.

Legion of Super-Heroes #50 Just over a year ago I was pretty excited about Jim Shooter‘s return to Legion of Super-Heroes. Shooter’s run – and the current series – come to an end this week, four issues sooner than Shooter had planned his story to run. This final issue is written by the obviously-pseudonymous “Justin Thyme”, which might be Shooter (using the name in the same way Harlan Ellison used Cordwainer Bird), or maybe Shooter just left and DC got someone else to write the final issue. The pencils are by Ramon Bachs rather than regular penciller Francis Manapul (though Manapul did the cover), suggesting that the whole series just fell apart at an editorial level at the end. (Blaming this on editor Mike Marts might not be fair; it seems like he had to pilot the series through a series of land mines just to get it this far, what with Shooter’s tensions within the industry, and the seeming irrelevance of the series once Legion of 3 Worlds kicked off.)

The issue certainly feels awkward and rushed: Shooter set up the idea of creatures living in a virtual reality running on the hardware of the universe itself invading the “real” universe for their own inscrutable reasons, which frankly is a pretty cool idea. This issue reveals their reasons (which are pretty pedestrian) and provides a straightforward solution to the problem, as indicated in the issue’s title, “Hack the Infinity Net!” Naturally there’s a lot of punching and shooting along the way, which seems out-of-place for a fight with a virtual enemy, and the notion that even Brainiac 5 can take down a whole virtual reality which has existed for millennia when no one else has before strains credulity. If this is the ending Shooter envisions all along – albeit compressed from 5 issues down to 1 – then it’s even more disappointing.

(The official promo for the issue states that it features the return of Cosmic Boy and the death of a longtime Legionnaire, neither of which happens, which makes me think that Shooter didn’t actually write the issue. More speculation about this at Comics Bulletin and Lying in the Gutters, plus comments from Francis Manapul on absence from the issue at Legion World.)

Shooter’s run lasted for 14 issues, and overall I was disappointed by it. He attempted to make the characters sound hip through newly-coined words and clever dialogue. The characterizations felt strained and unnatural, sometimes even embarrassing, and Lightning Lad’s term as leader seemed marked with one bad decision after another, a path the character’s gone down in earlier incarnations. Managing a huge cast like the Legion has is difficult, and in past decades writers have done so by cutting it down to a few members per issue (an approach which resulted in many memorable stories written by Shooter himself). That approach seems to be out of favor these days, but I don’t think dealing with the whole ensemble cast at once played to Shooter’s strengths. The invasion plot line itself had some interesting points, but it felt like it dragged on and periodically faded to the background in favor of the awkward character bits.

I kept wanting to like the series, but it never clicked for me, and there were many times when I cringed at the writing. And while Francis Manapul is a distinctive artist, his style isn’t really to my taste. I can see some of what Shooter was trying to do here, and I appreciate that he had the rug pulled out from under him at the end, but ultimately it wasn’t a successful run, as the story muddled around too much and often just wasn’t very fun.

The Incredible Hercules #112 When Greg Pak ended his run on The Incredible Hulk a year ago, at the conclusion of World War Hulk, Marvel did a couple of interesting things: First, it launched a new Hulk series with the “red Hulk”, written by Jeph Loeb. Second, it continued the old series with Pak as writer (partnered with Fred Van Lente), but retitled it The Incredible Hercules. The premise was that Amadeus Cho, the teenager who’s the “seventh-smartest person in the world” gets together with Hercules (the Greek god who’s also a member of the Avengers) and they have adventures in the post-Civil War Marvel Universe. I was intrigued by the red Hulk story and couldn’t care less about Amadeus Cho and Hercules, so I decided to pick up the former series and drop the latter series.

A year later, as Hulk meanders around aimlessly while Hercules has been getting good word-of-mouth on-line, I feel like I picked the wrong party. And really I should have known better: I’ve always been lukewarm towards Jeph Loeb’s writing, while Greg Pak’s run on Hulk was a lot of fun, engaging, and full of interesting character bits.

Note to self: When deciding which series to buy, always follow the creative talent, not the characters. (And, dammit, I knew that already.)

Fortunately, it’s rarely too late to make up for such a mistake in the comics biz, so this week I picked up the first six issues of The Incredible Hercules, and as I should have guessed they’re fun, engaging, and full of interesting character bits. Hercules is portrayed as being more canny and reasonable than he has been in the past, only smashing things up when his older brother Ares infects him with hydra venom. Cho is just as clever and calculating as he’s been in the past, but intent on bringing down SHIELD almost as much to just have a challenge as to punish the organization responsible for (or at least for enforcing) many of the reprehensible things going on in the Marvel Universe these days.

There are many flashbacks to Hercules’ adventures in Greek myth, showing the stories to be of varying degrees of accuracy, but also showing that Hercules has learned from some of his past mistakes, although others are lessons difficult for him to internalize due to his nature. He’s portrayed as more humble and aware of his limitations than he’s been in the past, but also as someone who prefers to be the “muscle” rather than the leader. Although he’s gained some wisdom, he’s not the smartest of heroes, and he’s aware of this, and maybe a little embarrassed by it. He also has a deep hatred of Ares, who revels in his tendencies towards violence. In sum, Pak and Van Lente give Hercules a nuanced character capable of carrying a series on his own, and also an interesting foil for Cho, whose seeming maturity of in some ways deceptive, as he hasn’t truly grown up and seems to see the world as his own private playground.

With plenty of action mixed in among the reminiscences and musings, I can see why The Incredible Hercules has gotten good reviews. Next week I’ll catch up on the series and add it to my regular pull list. It’s much, much better than the current Hulk series, which I decided to drop last month.

Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation v1 HC Tom Siddell’s excellent web comic Gunnerkrigg Court (which I’ve written about before) finally has its first collection out. The delay is no fault of Siddell’s; it got tied up (I think) due to Archaia’s financial restructuring and subsequent buyout.

But the book’s out, and it looks great! Although it’s in smaller-than-comic-book form, Siddell’s broad style, which relies on composition and expression more than on detail, survives the compression intact. If you’d rather catch up on the series on your couch rather than at your computer, Orientation covers the whole first year of Antimony Carver’s education at the unusual school, nearly 300 pages worth. It’s one of the very best web comics out there, and I highly recommend it.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #20, by David Hine, Doug Braithwaite & Bill Reinhold (DC)
  • Top 10: Season Two #3, by Zander Cannon & Gene Ha (DC/America’s Best)
  • Hulk #9, by Jeph Loeb, Arthur Adams & Frank Cho (Marvel)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist #21, by Duane Swierczynski & Timothy Green (Marvel)
  • Thor #12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Oliver Coipel & Mark Morales (Marvel)
  • Gigantic #2 of 5, by Rick Remender & Eric Nguyen (Dark Horse)
  • Mister X: Condemned #1 of 4, by Dean Motter (Dark Horse)
  • The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #2 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
  • Invincible #57, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • The Astounding Wolf-Man #11, by Robert Kirman, Jason Howard & Cliff Rathburn (Image)
  • Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #5, of 5, by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & James Nguyen (Red 5)
Hulk #9 I think this is the end for me for this run of Hulk: Three issues to tell two trivial stories of the green Hulk and the red Hulk is a lot of time wasted, and I’m not sticking around to see if Loeb gets on with it anytime soon. The series started out with a bang, but quickly ran out of gas. It’s doubly disappointing since Greg Pak did such a great job with the Planet Hulk/World War Hulk stories in the previous Hulk series.

Anyway, the two stories wrapping up here are the green Hulk fighting a horde of Wendigo in Las Vegas, and the She-Hulk and a group of female super-heroes fighting the Red Hulk, and getting pwned by him. The Art Adams art on the first story is fun, but the story doesn’t give him any great panels to draw. The Frank Cho artwork on the second is pretty much Frank Cho drawing a whole slew of buxom women in tights, which is pretty much what you’d expect.

At this point I don’t understand why I moved to this book rather than sticking with Greg Pak when the previous series became The Incredible Hercules. Don’t I know that I should stick with creators, not characters? Oh well.

The Immortal Iron Fist #21 The Immortal Iron Fist continues its trend of punctuating its major stories with one-shots about Iron Fists from different eras. This one features the Iron Fist of 3099, who’s sent to save the dying world of Yaochi from its oppressive tyrant. The story’s pretty good, and Timothy Green’s artwork is fantastic: Elegant layouts with lines for shading rather than use of blacks, giving it a little bit of a European look. The final panel, a 2/3-page spread, is terrific. Even if you’re not reading Iron Fist regularly, you might want to check this issue out.
Mister X: Condemned #1 The original Mister X series came out back when I was still pretty much only reading superhero comics, and it was so not a superhero comic. Although it’s been collected, it doesn’t hold up terribly well: The story arc is sketchy and the artwork is erratic.

So what is Mister X? Well, creator/writer/designer Dean Motter has done a trio of comic book series about three cities which all have a retro-futuristic architecture, a mash-up of styles from the 20s to the 50s and what those decades thought the future might look like stylistically. Mister X was the first, Terminal City the second (and the best), and Electropolis the third. Mister X takes place in Radiant City, a dark place whose architecture drives its citizens mad, earning it the nickname Somnopolis. Mister X himself was the designer of the city, now a lone renegade who’s driven to try to fix the city, although he has mixed results.

This second series opens with Radiant City’s leadership hiring demolition companies to take out the more rotten parts of the city, but they’re not entirely in control of what’s happening, and things start going awry, and people get killed. Then, Mister X reappears in the apartment of his old girlfriend, Mercedes, asking for the plans.

Motter isn’t the most versatile artist, but his esthetic and layouts are enough to carry the story, and this issue is a good place to get acquainted with the character. Time will tell if the advances in storytelling that Motter displayed in his later projects carries over to Mister X, but it’s off to a good start.

Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #5 The second Atomic Robo wraps up this week, and the last issue is a bit of a letdown after the first four, with a single-issue adventure to stop the Nazi scientist Skorzeny in 1944. He gets captured and is rescued by a Scotsman with a very heavy accent, who steals the show from Robo in his own comic. It feels so disjointed from the rest of the series that it feels like a throwaway issue, just when the series seemed to be hitting its stride. Oh, well.

It features an epilogue with a later meeting between Robo and Skorzeny, which is better than the main story.

As I said when I reviewed #4, I think better character development is the key to this series taking off. Robo is not much of a character, and the supporting cast is mostly too sketchy. They need to develop a few more characters and make them memorable. Until that happens, the series is just going to feel like a set of vignettes, ultimately not going anywhere.

(For a dissenting opinion, see this review at Major Spoilers.)

This Week’s Haul

  • Final Crisis #4 of 7, by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Superman: New Krypton Special #1, by Geoff Johns, James Robinson, Sterling Gates, Pete Woods, Gary Frank, Renato Guedes, Jon Sibal & Wilson Magalhaes (DC)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #8 of 12, by Jan Jurgens, Wes Craig & Dan Davis, and Ron Marz, Andie Tong & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Hulk #7, by Jeph Loeb, Arthur Adams & Frank Cho (Marvel)
  • Longshot HC, by Ann Nocenti & Arthur Adams (Marvel)
  • Echo #7, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Invincible #54, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Final Crisis #4 In this week’s installment of Final Crisis, basically nothing happens.

By which I mean: Darkseid has essentially taken over the world through judicious distribution of Anti-Life (but that happened last issue), the heroes fail to mount an effective defense or for that matter really do much of anything at all, and Darkseid manages his own resurrection.

This may be the slowest limited series ever.

I mean, c’mon; the series should have gotten to the final page of this issue by the end of issue #1, or maybe issue #2. And, geez, I don’t really have anything to add to that, because basically nothing happens in this issue. And to the extent that it seems like something happens, none of it is new: At best this is sort of a lead-in to the dark future portrayed in Morrison’s old JLA yarn, Rock of Ages. The heroes pulling together evokes Crisis on Infinite Earths. And although Barry Allen coming back is hands-down the best part of the book, we’ve seen it before, too, several times.

As has been widely reported, artist J.G. Jones is not going to be drawing the final issue of Final Crisis, and indeed he splits time here with the always-terrific Carlos Pacheco (his replacement for #7 will be the less-terrific Doug Mahnke). While I like Jones’ renderings, I think his static layouts have slowed the story down even further.

I joked in a comment in Chris Sims’ Invincible Super-Blog that I’m enjoying Marvel’s Secret Invasion more than Final Crisis even though I’m not even buying it, just thumbing through it in the store. But at least stuff is happening in Secret Invasion. Final Crisis is thoroughly, resoundingly, a storytelling train wreck.

In very, very slow motion.

Superman: New Krypton Special #1 I’m not sure why I picked up the New Krypton Special, since I was underwhelmed by the “Brainiac” story in Action Comics, and because I really have a hard time seeing them doing anything new and innovative with the story of a city full of Kryptonians arriving on Earth and gaining super powers.

This special starts with Jonathan Kent’s funeral, which is rather well done; Johns and Frank nail the emotions Clark must be feeling, and his memories of his dad are genuinely touching. It still feels a little gratuitous that they went this avenue in the first place, but at least it’s been tastefully and touchingly handled.

The rest of the book has two threads: First is a government project to interrogate Brainiac, a project which is concerned both with how to deal with Superman should it become necessary, and more urgently to deal with thousands of other Kryptonians who have recently arrived on the planet. The other thread involves Superman and Supergirl visiting Kandor in the Arctic where they meet Supergirl’s parents, Zor-El and Alura, and see that the Kandorians are developing super-powers. Unfortunately (but predictably) they don’t really have much interest in integrating with human culture, and instead see Earth as “New Krypton”.

Certainly there’s some promise here, but I can’t shake the notion that the story is just going to be a big disappointment. To some extent this is the drawback of being in the DC Universe: Not only are there thousands of superhumans on Earth, not to mention plenty of big guns which could probably do some serious harm to the Kandorians, but there are groups like the Green Lantern Corps out there who would certainly have an interest in reining in the Kandorians if they behave badly. Will the story deal with these issues head-on? Hard to say, but I expect various contrivances to avoid (for example) a Kandorian-Green Lantern Corps showdown.

Actually I think the best outcome for this story is to sidestep the expected attempts by various Kandorians to do as they wish on this planet of Kleenex-people and go in some other direction. For example, the Kandorians might actually end up being more socially sophisticated and understanding than humans (presently) are. But what fun would that be?

Anyway. I’m not sure whether I’ll keep buying the New Krypton stories. I might, since it’s just another book a month, but I can’t shake the feeling that the whole thing is just a Bad Idea. But perhaps I’ll see if they can prove me wrong.

(Oh, one thing I don’t understand, having just read the Supergirl/Raven story in The Brave and the Bold, is why Supergirl has this huge animosity towards and fear of her father in that story (it was what was driving the story, actually), but is delighted to see her parents still alive in this one. Seems like someone somewhere in editorial dropped the ball on that one.)

Tangent: Superman's Reign #8 I was enjoying Tangent: Superman’s Reign for the first few issues, but my interest has been flagging lately. Partly the story feels stretched, with characters running to and fro without much sense of drama. But the big blow has been the artwork, especially in the main series: We got several issues of the polished and elegant art of Jamal Ingle, but the last two issues have features Wes Craig’s much sketchier style, which just doesn’t work for me. I speculate that the comic hasn’t been doing well in sales so editorial reallocated Ingle’s time elsewhere. That’s just a guess, though.

The series is still somewhat entertaining, though nowhere near as much fun as the original Tangent comics, which were a “skip week” project back in the 90s (and which have been recently reprinted and are worth seeking out). But it feels like it could have been a lot better.

Hulk vol 4 #7 The “red Hulk” series is heading off the rails in the hurry. Publishing delays haven’t helped, of course, but the story’s losing direction fast. This issue is split into two parts: Bruce Banner returns to Las Vegas and turns into the gray Hulk, where he runs into Moon Knight. And She-Hulk recruits Valkyrie and Thundra to go after the red Hulk. So both stories end on cliffhangers, and naturally we have Frank Cho drawing the story with the three statuesque women, a cliche that seems like it’s even older than I am. So we end up with a ridiculous splash page like this:

Holk vol 4 #7 splash page
(click for larger image)

(Is this panel better or worse than the cover to Tangent: Superman’s Reign above? Arguably they’re about the same, but at least I got more value from the inside of Tangent, whereas the second story in Hulk is completely gratuitous.)

Plus, the dialogue is so bad I had to wonder if it was written by Cho, too. Ugh. (You know, I used to be a fan of Cho’s, back when he was doing Liberty Meadows. But in my opinion he hasn’t really developed much as an artist since then, and the quirks of his writing and layouts became repetitive and tiresome.)

This series was entertaining when it was big monsters smashing each other, with a hint of mystery about the red Hulk. But that’s basically gone. And certainly there’s no sophistication to the story – that got left behind when Greg Pak ended his run. Now it’s just a mess.

On the bright side the gray Hulk half was illustrated by Art Adams, which is always a treat. Speaking of which…

Longshot premiere hardcover This week saw the publication of the Longshot hardcover collection, reprinting the mini-series from 1985. This is notable because it was also Art Adams’ first major comics work.

Longshot is an amnesiac freedom-fighter from an alternate dimension, stranded in our world and trying to both adjust to it and deal with some of the stuff from his world that’s chasing him. Longshot is a true innocent, but he’s also got boffo acrobatic skills, and the ability to twist probabilities around him to his advantage. The whole thing is a fun ride, weirdly quirky, slightly existential.

Watching Adams develop through the six issues collected here is a revelation. The first two issues are very rough, clearly someone still finding his voice, and struggling with facial expressions especially. By the fourth issue, many of the trademark Adams poses and stylistic flourishes are there, and by the sixth he seems nearly like the Adams we’ve known ever since. Okay, he’s honed his craft and become a better storyteller since then, but the fundamentals of his style, what makes his art his, are all there.

Nocenti was clearly a relatively novice writer when the series was published, and it shows around the edges: The dialogue is rough at times, and the narrative can be difficult to follow. I think this is partly deliberate (Longshot’s memories of his pre-Earth life are deliberately dreamlike) but partly because Nocenti is taking a pretty challenging route in telling the story and it’s not quite smooth enough. Still, seeing something that’s this good yet still this rough makes it both an intriguing read and an interesting historical document. It’s a very distinctively told story, and nothing else I’ve read in mainstream comics is quite the same.

Longshot somehow ended up being shoehorned into the X-Men, which always seemed like a big mismatch to me, since he’s not a mutant, he’s very much a loner struggling to find somewhere to fit in. It’s always been disappointing that Nocenti never had the opportunity to follow up with some more solo adventures of the character. But that’s all water under the bridge now. This series stands not so much as a reminder of what might have been, but rather of the strange wonderful comics that were published by the big two back in the 1980s. Days like that don’t come around very often.

This Week’s Haul

  • Countdown to Final Crisis #16 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Pete Woods, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Salvation Run #3 of 7, by Matthew Sturges, Sean Chen & Walden Wong (DC)
  • Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #5 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Hulk #1, by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines (Marvel)
  • Nova #10, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves, Wellington Diaz & Nelson Pereira (Marvel)
  • The Twelve #1 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Weston & Garry Leach (Marvel)
  • MythAdventures! HC, by Robert Asprin, Phil Foglio & Tim Sale (Airship)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1946, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart & Paul Azaceta (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #14, by Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson & Peter Snejbjerg (Dynamite)
Hulk #1 In the wake of World War Hulk, Marvel launched the fourth Hulk series with a new #1 issue. This time the series’ hook is that there’s a red Hulk, and the mystery is: Who is it? I thumbed through the book and liked Ed McGuinness’s artwork, and also the kicker that this Hulk apparently is using firearms, which is a little unusual for him. So I decided to pick it up.

But closer reading makes it a lot less impressive. First of all, Jeph Loeb’s characterization of Doc Samson and the She-Hulk feels fundamentally off, with both of them seeming to possess hair-trigger personalities and a general air of grumpiness, which doesn’t track with their earlier behavior. Second, it looks like the new Hulk is probably going to be the usual suspect (Rick Jones), which would not only be lame, but would be essentially a rehash of Peter David’s earliest Hulk stories, 20 years ago (!). Lastly, the heroes go to consult with someone who knows something about the Hulk – Bruce Banner, currently under tight lockup. This seems directly at odds with the end of World War Hulk when Banner seemed to be presumed dead or at least in a coma. Not that I expected him to be dead, but how did he get from there to here?

Overall the writing seems extremely sloppy, and the set-up doesn’t seem promising. The art is still nice – McGuinness has developed pretty nicely since his days on Superman/Batman – but this book will have to shape up in a hurry or I’ll likely be done with it by issue #4.

The Twelve #1 I’ve written before about my frustrations with J. Michael Straczynski’s comic books, but I keep buying them anyway, since they always sound interesting. It’s the execution where they fall flat.

The Twelve features 12 obscure heroes from the 1940s who were published by Timely Comics (which later evolved into modern-day Marvel Comics) but who have basically been forgotten (I’d never heard of any of them before now). The premise is that at the end of World War II, superheroes descended on Berlin to help finish off the Nazis, but a random group of 12 heroes were tricked and captured by the Nazis and put into suspended animation so they could be studied. However, the Nazis in question were themselves captured by the Russians and the heroes were forgotten – until a construction project in 2008 unearths them. Shipped back to the US, the government decides to reawaken them, and enlist them as government heroes, a proposal the heroes all accept at the end of the first issue (with the exception of Elektro, who was a nonsentient robot controlled remotely by his now-deceased creator and who therefore couldn’t vote). The first issue ends with a glimpse of the future in which it appears that one of the Twelve will kill another of the Twelve.

The premise is promising, and hopefully having a 12-issue limited series will help Straczynski avoid his achilles heel as a comics writer: He writes long, drawn-out story arcs in which nothing happens for a lengthy period of time (his current work on Thor has this problem in spades, as I’ve said in previous entries). Of course, having a 24-issue limited series didn’t stop his Rising Stars series from being terrible and mostly boring. And the end of this first issue is reminiscent of the first issue of that series, so that’s not very encouraging. But I have hope that this will be a solid and entertaining series, so unless it really goes into the tank early, I’m basically signing up for the whole thing, good or bad.

The series takes place in the Marvel universe, so the heroes have woken up in the wake of the Civil War, which may put an unfortunate spin on the story (since I hate almost everything associated with the Civil War). Few of the heroes have any substantial powers, either, and reportedly the point-of-view character will be the Phantom Detective, who is one of those unpowered heroes (he seems to be in the mold of DC’s Crimson Avenger or Sandman characters from the 40s). So I wonder how this series will tie into the rest of the Marvel universe. Captain America is currently dead, so he can’t come meet the heroes to give them the benefit of his experience, and Bucky (a.k.a. the Winter Soldier) has an unusual position among Marvel heroes and I would guess is also not likely to show up. So the heroes apparently will mainly be dealing with the government and the military, groups which Straczynski tends to view with deep cynicism (and a lot less subtlety than, for instance, Robert Kirkman does in Invincible. If Straczynski really wants to make this a good comic, he’ll portray the government less cynically than he usually does.

The story does have one apparent hole in it: The controller of Elektro lost contact with his robot just as the Nazis trapped the heroes, yet he should have known almost exactly where they were, and have been able to have told someone at the time. Did he? If he did, why weren’t they rescued? Did he not? If not, then why not? Explaining this will have to be one of the steps of the series or the whole thing will have a big hole in it.

Anyway, the story shows promise, but it’s the art by Chris Weston and Garry Leach (man, how long as it been since I first saw Leach’s art on Miracleman?) that really makes it worthwhile. I’ve been impressed with Weston’s art the few times I’ve seen it before (for example, in Ministry of Space), and it’s just as good here: Detailed, stylistic, and he has a real facility for drawing faces with distinctive appearances and diverse expressions, as well as making great use of blacks and of whitespace. His weakness is that his poses tend to be a bit stiff (one page of Captain Wonder in action late in this issue unfortunately really exposes this), but superhero comics have a lengthy history of stiff poses (not everyone can be John Buscema, after all), so I think the series can overcome this. (And heck, for all I know that’s the one page that Weston had to pencil under deadline pressure, so maybe it’s an anomaly.)

Despite my reservations, obviously I find The Twelve to have enough depth to be worthy of a lengthy review, so I’m actually looking forward to the rest of the series. If I carp a lot about Straczynski’s comics, it really is because I feel like he ought to be able to do so much better, and that his ideas are too good to be shortchanged by the plodding pace he often employs. So here’s hoping The Twelve is a big exception to the pattern.

MythAdventures HC It’s no secret that Phil Foglio is one of my favoritest comics artists, and his studio just reprinted one of his earliest works in a slick, high-quality hardcover edition. MythAdventures! adapts the first volume of Robert Asprin’s series of humorous novels of the same name. Skeeve is an apprentice to the wizard Garkin, but he’s not very good: He can levitate things and almost light a candle. But when Garkin tries to show Skeeve what wizardry is all about by summoning a demon, an assassin shows up and offs the wizard. The ‘demon’ turns out to be a dimensional traveller named Aahz, who apprentices Skeeve as they set out to avenge Garkin’s death.

That synopsis doesn’t come anywhere close to doing the book justice: This is Foglio at his riotous best, with slapstick humor, rampant wordplay, off-the-wall drawings, and action and adventure. When I read the first series in the 1980s, I don’t think I’d ever read a comic book that made me laugh so hard, and I still giggle when I read it today. That the book has so many silly, off-the-wall elements and yet still tells a coherent story is just amazing.

(The story in the comic book deviates significantly from the original novel, Another Fine Myth. I enjoyed Asprin’s original series quite a bit, but it took a few books for it to really hit its stride; I think the best volume is the fifth, Little Myth Marker. Foglio’s adaptation works within the original book’s basic framework, but he makes it more fully his own work with a very loose adaptation. Overall I think it’s a win, but don’t read one and expect the other to be much like it. They’re quite different.)

The hardcover book is a little pricy (retails for $54.95), but it’s worth it (though you could instead opt for the paperback edition). Either way, I think you’ll find this book to just be a bushel of fun.

(Oh, this collection also features some of Tim Sale’s earliest work, as an inker, long before he made his name drawing Batman stories written by Jeph Loeb, or even Grendel stories written by Matt Wagner. I mostly like him better as an inker than a penciller, but that’s just my personal taste.)

This Week’s Haul

Due to my vacation over Thanksgiving week, I’m running behind on these. This entry is for comic books I bought the week of 14 November 2007:

  • All-Star Superman #9, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)
  • Booster Gold #4, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #24 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Fables #67, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC)
  • Salvation Run #1 of 7, by Bill Willingham, Sean Chen & Waldon Wong (DC)
  • Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #3 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Welcome to Tranquility #12, by Gail Simone & Neil Googe (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Nova #8, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Thor #4, by J. Michael Straczynski, Oliver Coipel & Mark Morales (Marvel)
  • World War Hulk #5 of 5, by Greg Pak, John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson (Marvel)
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier HC, by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill (America’s Best)
  • B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #4 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Atomic Robo #2 of 6, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
Salvation Run #1 Salvation Run is yet another Countdown tie-in – sort of. These days it’s hard to tell what’s a Countdown tie-in (like this) and what’s not (like Countdown to Adventure and Countdown to Mystery, whose lead stories both have nothing to do with Countdown). Score another one for DC editorial in the ongoing fiasco that is Countdown.

Anyway, Salvation Run is loosely based on a decade-old idea by George R. R. Martin, which – believe it or not – has nothing to do with my decision to pick it up. No, instead I was mainly interested in the artwork of Sean Chen (who’s art is the reason I started picking up Nova), and I figured the sardonic writing of Bill Willingham (Fables) might work well with the book’s premise, that being that the United States gets tired of all the super-villains stealing, killing, and generally disrupting society, so it decides to start shipping the repeat offenders out to an alien world, to fend for themselves. A world full of super-villains is sure to be a powderkeg – especially since most villains tend to be men – and the moral question of exiling villains to another world seems worth exploring. Anyway, there seems to be a lot of promise here.

The first issue is okay. Chen’s artwork is dynamic but not as detailed as I think it’s been in the past. The story mainly focuses on the Flash’s rogues gallery surviving on the world for some weeks – it’s a pretty hostile and bizarre place – before meeting up with a large number of second-string villains who have just arrived (plus the Joker). The issue ends with the hint that someone’s been tricked in this whole setup, but leaves open the question of why.

So it seems worth following for a 7-issue run, but I hope they do something worthwhile with it. I suspect it would have worked better in Martin’s original Elseworlds configuration.

Nova #8 Man, does Nova have some of the blandest covers in comics these days? I mean, the renderings by Adi Granov are pretty good, but the designs are bo-ring! (I assume these are designs created by editorial and not by Granov.) If they actually reflected the contents of the book, I think they could really help sales.

Anyway, in the wake of his ill-considered Annihilation Conquest storyline, Nova has ended up at the edge of the universe – literally. Unable to escape, he ends up being stranded on a giant space station, which seems nearly deserted except for a few extremely powerful – and somewhat crazed – super-beings, and a talking Russian dog, Cosmo. Cosmo gets the best line of the series so far: “You have seen end of universe and met space zombies, and talkink dog is what freaks you out? Bozshe moi.”

So there’s something nasty going on on this space station, the station itself has a surprising nature, besides being outside the edge of the universe, and Nova’s powers are significantly diminished because the Worldmind that powers him is still spending most of its energy fighting off the Phalanx’s techno-virus. Our hero looks to be in for a rough time – which means this book ought to be back on track now that Nova’s not dealing with the conquest, which he wasn’t really participating in meaningfully anyway.

Thor #4 Thor is now officially combining the world elements of J. Michael Straczynski’s comic book writing: Not only is the story moving at a glacial pace, as Thor gradually tries to reconstruct Asgard, but it’s got Straczynski’s tedious tendency to try to highlight real-world problems through a brief encounter by his larger-than-life protagonist. In this case, Donald Blake goes to a war-torn African nation and ends up in the middle of a civil war. Ya-a-awn. This book went horribly wrong when it became a “visit a problem area somewhere in the world” travelogue, and I’m rapidly running out of confidence that Straczynski can salvage it. Honestly, there’s just not much story here. Coipel’s art is still pretty, though.
World War Hulk #5 Well, I was a little off in my prediction of how World War Hulk would end, but it’s still be a fun ride – a big smash-fest. There was a nifty little surprise regarding what exactly happened to send the Hulk back to Earth looking for revenge, and the Hulk comes to a certain closure at the end of the story. It basically ended the way it had to, but of course this being a superhero comic it’s not really the end. We’ll get back to the status quo sometime.

I do wish that this book had been used to show Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic how wrong they’d been in their treatment of the Hulk and that they were on the wrong end of the Civil War, but Marvel is inexplicably committed to casting two of their long-standing heroes in the roles of villains, so that was clearly too much to hope for. Oh well.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier The Black Dossier is the third volume in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, and it’s easily the worst one to date. The problem is that there’s not much story in it, and what there is is both dull and not much fun.

Volume 1 was the best volume to date, because it seemed primarily inspired by the Justice League, assembling a group of 19th century heroes to tackle a threat. The characters and setting made it very different from a Justice League story, but it still had a solid narrative with a lot of tension and a concrete resolution. It also had a lot of little asides referring to other Victoriana, but they were just bonuses and not central to the story.

Volume 2 was enjoyable, but was a big step down from Volume 1. The core idea of the League dealing with H.G. Wells’ Martian invasion was nifty, but it took a turn into the no-fun zone with its rather explicit sex and its brutal resolution. Plus, while the first volume had a text backup story featuring Alan Quatermain, Wells’ time machine, and some H.P. Lovecraft creatures, this volume had a very self-indulgent and tedious travelogue of the League’s world, filled with lots of references to extremely obscure people and places. Little bits of it were entertaining, but mostly it didn’t really add anything.

The Black Dossier goes for the clever references in spades, with extended text sequences featuring characters like Orlando, Fanny Hill, and various other historical background for the League. And most of that stuff is very, very boring, not least because this is supposed to be a graphic novel, and nothing takes the edge off a graphic novel like throwing big blocks of text into it. Honestly, I didn’t even read the bulk of the text sections for that very reason. Snooze. I agree with Johanna Carlson’s observation that the book feels too much like homework much of the time, and that’s no fun. It feels very self-indulgent.

The core story involved Allan Quatermain and Mina Murray – who have both become young again – capturing the Black Dossier from post-Big Brother Britain (the 1950s) so they can learn just how much their government knows about what they’ve been up to for the last decade or two. The Dossier contains the backstory of the League dating back for centuries, and it is reproduced within the main story and accounts for the text segments of the book. The main story has its moments mainly as our heroes are pursued by James Bond, Hugo Drummond and Emma Peel as they try to escape from Britain, but the end of the book is extremely disappointing, making the whole thing feel rather pointless.

I wonder whether this will be the last LoeG book. It’s hard to imagine the series getting much worse from here, though another festival of clever references would probably do the trick. The series has fallen an awful long way from its promising beginnings, so I can’t say it would be a great loss if this is the last installment. This was pretty mediocre stuff.

Anyway, if unlike me you really enjoy all the references – obscure or otherwise – Jess Nevins has posted his annotations for the book so that should keep you busy for a while. I think the joke is long past its sell-by date, personally.

This Week’s Haul

Somehow I’ve failed to post a single entry since last week’s comics reviews. I’ve gotta get it in gear!

  • Countdown #27 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Keith Giffen, Carlos Magno & Rodney Ramos (DC)
  • Fables #66, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Annihilation Conquest: Wraith #4 of 4, by Javier Grillo-Marxuach & Kyle Holz (Marvel)
  • Avengers Assemble HC vol 5 by Kurt Busiek, Alan Davis & Mark Farmer, Ivan Reis, Keiron Dwyer, Brent Anderson, Patrick Zircher, Yanick Paquette & others (Marvel)
  • Marvel Masterworks: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. vol 83 HC, collecting Strange Tales #135-153, by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, John Severin, Don Heck, Jim Steranko & others (Marvel)
  • What If? Featuring Planet Hulk #1, by Greg Pak, Leonard Kirk, Rafa Sandoval, Gary Erskine & Fred Hembeck (Marvel)
  It’s too easy to keep piling the criticism onto Countdown, but I will make the following observation: Paul Dini‘s track record as a comics writer isn’t too great. His tabloid-sized graphic novels with Alex Ross were pretty weak (Superman: Peace on Earth was probably the best), and apparently his other current series, Madame Mirage isn’t too great either – The Invincible Super-Blog makes this point concisely. Does this make Dini’s best comic work Jingle Belle? Erk.
Avengers Assemble vol 5 HC Avengers Assemble volume 5 finishes off Kurt Busiek’s run on The Avengers from a few years back. It’s surely one of the best runs the long-running series has ever seen (though I think Roy Thomas’ run in the late 60s edges it out). What made it work was that Busiek was able to work with the characters and develop them, and he also had a fundamental respect for what made the Avengers feel like they did at their best. Within this framework he told some terrific stories and had a run of excellent artists, lead of course by George Pérez, but the artists here are also quite good. Basically he successfully updated the team for 21st-century sensibilities without destroying what made it fun. Contrast with Brian Michael Bendis’ run on the title, which has been, well, destructive and depressing.

Anyway, the centerpiece of this volume is a long story in which Kang the Conquerer comes back to conquer the 21st century. While you might say “What, again?!?”, like the earlier confrontation with Ultron, Busiek takes Kang to the next level: He uses his time-travelling ability to outwit the people of Earth and set them against each other, and manages to bring the planet to its knees. There are some lovely character moments in the series, including the resolution of several long-running plot threads involving Triathlon and Goliath, complete with a fairly brutal depiction of what a world war against (effectively) an alien invader might to do the planet, somehow all without getting too depressing. It’s a classic adventure yarn, which means it’s fun to read, suggesting the darker elements rather than getting bogged down in them.

It wraps up with a short story titled “Lo, There Shall Come… An Accounting!”, which is both an amusing glimpse behind-the-scenes of how the Avengers do their jobs, and a nifty little way for Busiek to bring his run to a definitive close.

Every fan of mainstream superhero comics should read these stories, because this sort of thing has rarely been done any better, by anyone.

Marvel Masterworks vol 83: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Speaking of reprints, I’m delighted to see Nick Fury getting the Marvel Masterworks treatment. The Steranko stuff was reprinted in paperback a few years ago, but it’s good enough that I’d like to own it in hardcover. This volume starts at the beginning of Fury’s run, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used the character as their own super-spy, back when super-spies were the hot thing.

S.H.I.E.L.D. was an international law-enforcement agency (although it was always portrayed as a U.S. agency) of which Fury becomes director. Fury is a no-nonsense World War II veteran with an eye patch who bring a certain rough-and-tumble attitude to the stiff-necked agency, with lots of high technology bridging the gap between them. Lee and Kirby of course play it for action and play up the gizmos, while Steranko – when he came on board – both emphasized the spy element, and used it as a venue to deploy his cinematic approach to storytelling, something which was as revolutionary at the time as Neil Adams’ commercial art sensibility was. This volume has a lot more of the former than the latter, but hopefully they’ll do a second volume. In any event, if you’re a fan of Lee/Kirby Marvel, then this one’s for you, True Believer!

What If? Featuring Planet Hulk Planet Hulk gets the What If? treatment, in an issue with a trio of stories written by regular HulkWorld War Hulk. In the second, the Hulk ends up on the peaceful planet he’d originally been sent to, resulting in a continuation of the Hulk/Banner conflict without anyone else around to bother. The third is a one-pager in which Bruce Banner lands on Sakaar instead of the Hulk, with predictable results, played for yuks with art by Fred Hembeck.

It’s not a bad issue, and all three artists are quite good, but I was disappointed that it was so predictable. Either Pak was phoning it in, or else this was an issue mandated by editorial, with all the imagination we should expect from such a thing.

In addition to the usual haul, Lee’s Comics had their annual Black October sale. These days I don’t have a lot I’m looking for that I can’t just get through my usual store, Comics Conspiracy, but I still like to go by nearby sales to check them out. It turns out I was pretty lucky at this one:

  I was pretty happy to pick up this issue of X-Men at a very reasonable price. It falls short of pristine, it’s still bright and shiny and in great condition. It’s a piece of my childhood that I’m happy to have on my bookshelf, even if it has been reprinted several times.
Rex Mundi: The Lost Kings vol 3 Rex Mundi seems to be getting a positive review every time I turn around. In the introduction to this volume, J.H. Williams III (who is an excellent artist, BTW) writes: “I feel when all is said and done this series will be looked upon by future readers as one of the more truly important pieces of comics work to make it to the published arena.”

It’s a pretty good book, but it’s not that good. It’s a fairly convoluted and slow-moving conspiracy story in an alternate 1933 in which the Protestant Reformation failed and Catholicism prevails in Europe. France is a world power and is bidding to become more of one. Our hero, Master Physician Julien Sauniére, uncovers a secret society and starts to peel back the layers of a two-thousand-year-old secret involving Jesus Christ and the lineage of the Kings of France. Characterization is not very strong, and it’s often difficult to work up the enthusiasm to follow the twists and turns of the conspiracies and secrets being revealed. And there’s rarely any substantial threat to the lives and well-being of the characters, so there’s rarely much urgency in the story. Just a lot of ambling around learning things. So it’s not a bad series, but I don’t think it’s a terrific adventure story, nor does it (so far) have anything profound to say about the human condition.

That said, it is a pretty good historical conspiracy story, so if that kind of thing is your cup of tea, I certainly recommend it.

This particular volume is a transition between the first artist (EricJ) and the current artist (Ferreyra). Ironically, I think the interim artist (Di Bartolo) is better than either of them, having the polish of Ferreyra while showing a wider range of expression than either of them. Funny that.

Scarlet Traces: The Great Game vol 2 HC The last issue of this second series of Scarlet Traces came out when I started reviewing comics weekly in this space, and I’d very much enjoyed the first series. This one isn’t quite as good, but it’s still enjoyable.

The premise is that after humans defeated the Martians in The War of The Worlds, we appropriated their technology and substantially ramped up our own. By “we” I mean “Britain”, which became the dominant world power, and in 1898 took the war to Mars. 40 years later, when this series opens, the war has not been going well, and photojournalist Charlotte Hemming embarks on a quest to find out exactly what’s going on. Backed by quirky-and-inventive artwork by D’Israeli, Edginton’s script evokes Alan Moore’s second League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, while telling a more focused story, and one with more than a little relationship to America’s current adventures in Iraq. It moves right along and has a satisfying ending.

I’m hoping there will be more Scarlet Traces in the future, as it feels like there’s plenty of space for further extrapolation. Time will tell.

This Week’s Haul

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #56, by Tad Williams & Shawn McManus (DC)
  • Countdown #32 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Al Barrionuevo & Art Thibert (DC)
  • Countdown to Adventure #1 of 8, by Adam Beechen, Eddy Barrows & Julio Ferreira, and Justin Gray & Fabrizio Fiorentino (DC)
  • Countdown to Mystery #1 of 8, by Steve Gerber, Justiniano & Walden Wong, and Matthew Sturges & Stephen Jorge Segovia (DC)
  • Ex Machina #30, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Armageddon Conquest: Quasar #3 of 4, by Christos N. Gage, Mike Lilly, Bob Almond & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • World War Hulk #4 of 5, by Greg Pak, John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson (Marvel)
  • The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #1 #1 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)

Countdown #32Gee, it’s a new artist on Countdown! Too bad he got stuck illustrating this piece of cow flop, which largely involves a bachelorette party for Black Canary, who’s getting married to Green Arrow soon, in what is surely one of the most pointless company-wide events in recent memory. Countdown has been pretty widely panned in the blogosphere, and for good reason: There’s really no coherent story in it, and random events from the DC universe – like the GA/BC wedding – intrude on it for no good reason and to no good effect. It’s everything that 52 wasn’t, and that’s not a good thing.

Meanwhile, I broke down and decided to try both Countdown to Adventure and Countdown to Mystery, which are both sorta-kinda tie-ins to Countdown, each with two stories.

Countdown to Adventure #1Countdown to Adventure focuses on the “space heroes” from 52: Adam Strange, Starfire, and Animal Man. Adam Strange gets some competition in his role as protector of Rann, while Animal Man’s wife isn’t too wild about the buxom Starfire crashing in their house since she lost her powers. The art is very pretty and the story has promise, although honestly I get tired of writers dumping on Adam Strange all the time. Can’t the guy ever catch a break? I think the best Adam Strange story in the last 15 years was the JLA story in which he manipulated the Justice League to save Rann, showing that, yes, he really is just really clever and he can think rings around other heroes (and villains).

The back-up story is about Forerunner, a supporting character in Countdown, and it’s basically a good tale about a completely uninteresting character.

Countdown to Mystery #1Countdown to Mystery was originally going to be Steve Gerber’s relaunch of Doctor Fate, but I guess DC decided it might sell better if tied in to the current ongoing event of Countdown. Who knows if it does, but the story here has absolutely nothing to do with Countdown. In it the helmet of Nabu lands on the head of Dr. Kent Nelson, failed psychiatrist. Does he have any relationship at all to the Kent Nelson who was the original Doctor Fate? Who knows? Gerber’s trippy, stream-of-consciousness narrative doesn’t really work at all – the thing feels entirely by-the-numbers, like one of the glummer moments of a Doctor Strange run over at Marvel. Justiniano and Wong’s artwork sometimes feels like Tom Mandrake, and sometimes like Kevin O’Neill, which is a bizarre mixture. It’s not bad, although the tweaks to Fate’s costume look kind of silly.

The back-up here is about the current incarnation of Eclipso, a silly DC villain from the 60s who’s now in the body of the ex-wife of The Atom, for reasons which emerged in DC’s event of a couple of years ago, Identity Crisis, which was a series which had very pretty artwork and a completely nonsensical story. All of which means that this series probably would have been better if it had been left as just a new Doctor Fate series.

World War Hulk #4I think I see how World War Hulk is going to end: The Sentry is going to finally join the fray, try to talk the Hulk down from his rampage, they’ll get into a fight, and then the Sentry’s evil opposite number, the Void, will get released. In the ensuing chaos, the other heroes get free and try to contain the void, the the Hulk slips away somehow – possibly injured and taken by his allies out of reach of Earth’s heroes. And the Hulk’s story diverges from that of Earth again. Which would leave the question of: What happens next?

But first there’s the even bigger question: Can Greg Pak surprise me and pull off a different ending from this?

The Umbrella Academy #1Fans of Hellboy must check out The Umbrella Academy. Gerard Way is the frontman of the band My Chemical Romance, one of those rare alt-rock bands that I’ve actually heard of. Irrespective of that, the comic is actually quite good. The book has a strong Victorian-era feel, although details of the story suggest that it takes place in sometimes between 1920 and 1960 (after the death of Gustav Eiffel, for one thing). In it, a number of infants are mysteriously born to women across the globe, and a prominent man named The Monocle goes out to collect them, but finds only 7, whom he raises himself in The Umbrella Academy. The seven each have one or more unusual powers, but their father dotes on Number One, who is a Superman-like figure, and denegrates the others. The first half of the issue takes place when the group is 10, and the second half focuses on Number One, now called Spaceboy, 20 years later, when an accident has left him with the body of a giant gorilla.

The book has heroes in domino masks, a talking ape, a boxer beating up an alien, and one of the kids reappearing after a long absence. Ba’s art is reminiscent of Mike Mignola’s work on Hellboy, and the whole thing is creepy and eerie and provocative. A very neat start, I’m very much looking forward to the next issue!

(You can read some previously-published solo adventures of adult members of the Umbrella Academy on the comic’s MySpace page.)

On a completely different note, if you’re interested in any incarnation of the Justice Society of America of the last 35 years, you might be interested in the extended debate Kalinara and I are having about them on her blog. We have completely different points of view on the subject, which is amusing even if I do find her point of view rather incomprehensible! :-)

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.

This Week’s Haul

  • Countdown #39 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Jim Calafiore & Jay Leisten (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #8, by Geoff Johns, Fernando Pasarin & Rodney Ramos (DC)
  • Metal Men #1 of 8, by Duncan Rouleau (DC)
  • Welcome to Tranqulity #9, by Gail Simone, Neil Googe, Leandro Fernandez & Francisco Paronzini (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Ms. Marvel #18, by Brian Reed, Aaron Lopresti & Matt Ryan (Marvel)
  • Thor #2, by J. Michael Stracyznki, Oliver Coipel & Mark Morales (Marvel)
  • World War Hulk #3 of 5, by Greg Pak, John Romita Jr., & Klaus Janson (Marvel)
  • Elephantmen: Wounded Animals HC, by Richard Starkings, Moritat, and others (Image)


Justice_Society_8.jpgUsually I find “special character spotlight” issues to be tedious: exposition and incidental adventure which mostly feels just-plain-obvious. But this month’s JSA is better-than-usual: Although nominally spotlighting Liberty Belle (the former Jesse Quick), it’s more interesting for its handling of Damage, one of the more tragic characters in recent memory, whose face is so badly scarred that he wears a mask like the original Atom’s to hide his appearance. After the predictable flashbacks to Belle’s early life, Damage confronts Zoom, a recent Flash villain who’s responsible for his disfigurement, in which we get to learn both something about both his character and Belle’s. Pretty good stuff.

Except for the cover. The Alex Ross “pose” covers got boring a long time ago.


Metal_Men_1.jpgSo who exactly is Duncan Rouleau and where has he been hiding? I picked up Metal Men #1 because I liked his clean, dynamic artwork when I thumbed through it, but it’s an all-around fun comic: A mix of action and adventure (the Metal Men take on a nanotechnological menace), danger (then they’re confiscated by the government), drama (a flashback to Will Magnus first unveiling the Metal Men and what it meant to his career), and mystery (a familiar-looking figure apparently ready to wipe the Metal Men from the timestream). That’s a lot of stuff for a first issue, but it should be plenty to keep the series busy and enjoyable for 8 issues. If it delivers on even half its promise, then it should be lots of fun.

Oh, and Rouleau’s art is just as good as it looked at first glance.


Ms. Marvel introduces a couple of new superhumans to her S.H.I.E.L.D. unit, including the current revision of Machine Man who both (1) looks really boring, and (2) is a stuck-up, obnoxious prig. Which is really annoying since Machine Man’s hallmark has always been that inside he’s as human as any of us. He’s a lot like Brainiac 5 from the current Legion of Super-Heroes, except that Brainy’s always been a little annoying that way, while for Machine Man it goes completely against character. Gah, what a waste.

Thor #2 is mostly a lengthy sequence with Thor returning to Asgard (sort of), and talking with the locals in the middle of nowhere. Nothing happens, really. Didn’t I mention that Straczynski’s comic books drive me up the wall? Get on with the story already!


World_War_Hulk_3.jpgMan, World War Hulk sure is fun, and #3 has about four times as much story in it as I’d expect: Doctor Strange’s plan comes to fruition, the Hulk fights the US army, Hulk’s warbound comrades take down a while slew of Marvel heroes, and the last page promises some serious ass-kicking next issue. And there are still two issues left!

It takes a lot to make a big slugfest worth reading. Admittedly “Planet Hulk” tried a little too hard to give the Hulk’s fury a sense of righteousness, but plopping it on top of Civil War made it just effective enough.

(Comics Should Be Good thinks World War Hulk is the second part of a Hulk trilogy, which raises the question: What the heck would part three be?)


I have no idea what Elephantmen is going to be like. It’s gotten good word-of-mouth and the art style has always intrigued me in the previews. I wonder if I’ll miss a lot because I haven’t read the earlier Hip Flask material?

This Week’s Haul

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #54, by Tad Willians & Shawn McManus (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #5, by Mark Waid, George Pérez & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Countdown #41 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen & Dennis Calero (DC)
  • World War Hulk #2 of 5, by Greg Pak, John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson (Marvel)

Brave_and_the_Bold_5.jpgI still can’t say enough good things about The Brave and the Bold. This time around we get Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Legion being one of the very few team books that George Pérez has never drawn regularly; other than a few covers and in Crisis on Infinite Earths, I’m not sure he’s ever drawn them professionally. Here he gets to draw the current version, and he does a bang-up job, as you’d expect: Futuristic cities, two dozen costumes, lots of debris, all the stuff you love from George Pérez.

Waid sets up the scenario perfectly: Batman arrives in the 31st century by accident, his body merged with the villain Tharok. Brainiac 5 splits them, but Batman’s travels have resulted in some unfortunate side-effects, which all the heroes have trouble dealing with. Batman gets tired of Brainy’s sanctimonious nature (this version of Brainy is an egotistical prig), cold-clocks him, and escapes, leading the Legion on a merry chase through the future Metropolis. While I get tired of the “Batman is just so clever he can take on anyone” stuff that DC puts Batman through these days, it’s still a lot of fun when done well, as it is here.

We also get to check in on what Supergirl, Green Lantern and Adam Strange are up to, and the series ends up a big cliffhanger, presumably to wrap up next issue. I can’t wait!

World_War_Hulk_2.jpgWorld War Hulk continues, with the usual gambits by the Hulk’s adversaries being tried and exhausted in pretty short order.

Given what a mess the Marvel Universe is these days, I’m really curious to see how this resolves, but I know that if they use one of the usual Hulk gambits (turning him back into Banner, or send him to another dimension, or make him revert to being a brute, or whatever) then it’s going to be a big waste of time.

Anyway, another good issue of ass-kicking. I have a suspicion that Doctor Strange isn’t going to come out of this series in very good shape, which would be a shame since he’s the one admirable figure of the ones the Hulk is hunting in that he resisted the Superhero Registration Act. He’s also the one who’s probably fairly expendable from a marketing standpoint. But we’ll see.

Incidentally, Marvel editor Tom Brevoort posted Mark Millar’s original pitch for Civil War. Although the thing is really wrong-headed all around (I’m no fan of Mark Millar’s writing, I freely admit), it’s interesting to see that World War Hulk was part of the plan from the get-go. I sure am glad they avoided an invasion of “Hulk Babies”, though. Anyway, Marvel fans might want to give it a look. (via Comics Should Be Good)