This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 18 July 2007.

  • 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)

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 20 June 2007.

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #53, by Tad Williams & Shawn McManus (DC)
  • The Brave and The Bold #4, by Mark Waid, George Pérez & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Countdown #45 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, J. Calafiore & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Ex Machina #29, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice League of America #10, by Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes & Sandra Hope (DC)
  • Annihilation Conquest Prologue, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, & Mike Perkins (Marvel)
  • Incredible Hulk #107, by Greg Pak, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (Marvel)
  • Boneyard #25, by Richard Moore (NBM)
  • Captain Clockwork: Chronology by Glenn Whitmore (Captain Clockwork)

Aquaman is reportedly on the chopping block. In a way this is too bad, because I’d like to actually read the end of this current story, but it’s been dragging on so long and so aimlessly that I can’t work up too much sympathy.

Gosh how I love The Brave and The Bold: Punchy, funny writing, inventive threats, and plenty of tension. Really, Mark Waid has reinvented the sorts of stories that populated comics in my childhood, but updated them and made them feel less ludicrous. They’re just fun. Now granted, this is one long story (I don’t know how many issues it’s going to run), but it’s pretty much the cream of the crop in mainstream superhero comics today.

On the other hand, Justice League of America ends “The Lightning Saga” in a particularly unsatisfying manner: Not only did the Legion of Super-Heroes have hardly any relevance to the story, but the JLA and JSA didn’t really have any, either! Graeme McMillan at Comix Experience sums up the mess; here’s an excerpt with the spoilery bits removed:

Justice League of America #10 is an Awful ending to the JLA/JSA crossover. […] The fact that we’re seeing an entirely different Legion of Super-Heroes from the ones who have their own series isn’t really given any attempt at explanation (There’s one line of dialogue which kind of suggests that they’re from Earth-2? Maybe?). Why this alternaretroLegion came back in time to […] is given no attempt at explanation, either; instead, we’re given scenes that hint that the Legion had an ulterior motive, but, of course, that’s not explained either. It’s hard for me to say how truly sloppy this final chapter is, even compared with the earlier parts of this story. It’s truly fan-fiction that somehow got published by a real company, with all the entitlement and lack of logic or respect for the reader that that implies. […] [G]oddamn if [DC’s] not making it hard to care with the shitty comics that they’re putting out right now.

“It’s truly fan-fiction that somehow got published by a real company”. That’s exactly right.

Greg Burgas savages this issue in much greater detail over at Comics Should Be Good. If you bothered to read “The Lightning Saga”, you should read his critique. His point about there not being a villain (or any sort of antagonist) in the story is also well-taken, and is another indication that this truly is just fan fiction.

My enjoyment of Nova has not only gotten me interested in last year’s Annihilation event from Marvel (but I’ll wait for the trade paperbacks to come out), but in the new Annihilation Conquest event. The reason I’m interested is that it seems like it’s only an “event” in name, but it’s really just a framework for the creators to play in a separate area of the Marvel Universe (i.e., deep space) within a larger story. That sort of thing can be a lot of fun. Beats the heck out of what’s going on on Earth in the MU.

Incredible Hulk is running a sort-of side story to World War Hulk, involving some occasional allies of the Hulk (Hercules and Angel in this case), and Amadeus Cho, a teenager who’s the 7th-smartest person in the world. It’s more comical than dramatic, and it feels unnecessary other than to mark time in the regular book while WWH is going on. Nice art (as usual) by Gary Frank, though.

Captain Clockwork: Chronology is a trade paperback-sized black-and-white volume starring Glenn Whitmore’s character, who is really four heroes who operate in different time periods, between World War II and the mid-21st century. I reviewed the special a couple of months ago, and this is more of the same; indeed, it collects the special, some earlier-published stories, and a few new ones, in a nice squarebound $12.95 package. The sometimes-befuddling artwork would be fine except that the stories are likewise befuddling: The first three Clockworks all have the same name and all resemble each other (except that the third one has a goatee), and individual stories often confused me, especially in their resolution. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts in that there is a larger story being told, but it’s a loose story and not entirely satisfying.

Overall, I think Whitmore needs to tighten up both his writing and his drawing for this to be a worthwhile ongoing project. I’d consider buying a second volume, but I’d want to see some substantial improvement when thumbing through it before plunking down the money.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 13 June 2007.

  • Countdown #46 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Fables: Sons of Empire TPB vol 9, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Michael Allred & others (DC/Vertigo)
  • Fables #62, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice #12 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Doug Braithwaite (DC)
  • Nova #3, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Sean Chen & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • World War Hulk #1 of 5, by Greg Pak, John Romita Jr., & Klaus Janson (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls # 4 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • New Tales of Old Palomar #2, by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
  • Hero by Night #4 of 4, by D.J. Coffman & Jason Embury (Platinum Studios)

I realized earlier this week that Countdown seems to be featuring mostly new artists in its stable. I think the most prominent artist I recognized was J. Calafiore, who’s mainly known for his decent-but-unspectacular work on Marvel’s Exiles. 52 used several artists per issue (until the later issues), which made for uneven artwork, but there was usually some good stuff in each issue. So far, none of the Countdown artists have been duds, so that’s good.

Justice is one of the least-necessary mini-series in recent memory. Ross’ painting over Braithwaite’s pencils was so-so, certainly nowhere near as good as raw Ross. The story was a straight-up classic JLA story: A bunch of villains get together to erase the heroes and take over the world, but the heroes fight back, and one of the villains has a secret plan behind the main plan. Plot-by-numbers, with the additional (and ultimately meaningless) element of the villains knowing the heroes’ secret identities.

The series tries to be different by providing insight into the heroes’ psyches, via first-hand narratives. Frankly, it’s just awful. Somehow Kurt Busiek makes this sort of monologue work in series like Marvels (Ross’ first major work) and Astro City, but it completely fizzles here, sounding contrived and often cloying (which it also did in Ross’ series of tabloids with Paul Dini from a few years ago). For instance, this scene:

[Superman streaks out of the sky, heat vision flashing.]

Superman: No one’s going to die, Scarecrow. Not in your city, or the one that’s sinking. Or in any of them. Not one. Not today.

Green Lantern (internal monologue): There’s fear in Superman’s voice. He doesn’t believe his words. He says them anyway. As if speaking the impossible is the first step to making it possible.

The series was full of tell-don’t-show text like this. Wordy, unnecessary.

If you cut out that stuff, the series is just another Justice League story, with way too many characters. It doesn’t even make me nostalgic for the 70s JLA, it’s just not a good series. But it’s over.

World War Hulk, on the other hand, is a lot of fun so far. Not least because Iron Man and his cronies need their butts kicked by someone, and the Hulk’s a great candidate to do it. I’m not a big fan of John Romita Jr’s artwork but he does have a clarity of layout to make the big fight scenes entertaining. The blogosphere is giving this one good reviews so far, so it looks like writer Greg Pak is going places.

Nova is another side of the Civil War fallout, and issue #3 continues to build on the series’ strong start, as Nova encounters some new enemies and an old friend and see just how messed up the Marvel universe has become. It looks like the series is pulling away from Earth for a while after this issue (presumably because Nova might actually be powerful to take on the Hulk and that would just confuse everything), but hopefully it will continue to be as rewarding. I’m reluctant to bother with any of Marvel’s space-based cross-overs, so I hope the next few issues will be readable on their own.

New Tales of Old Palomar is surreal this month. Disappointing, really. I prefer the character stuff.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 16 May 2007.

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #52, by Tad Williams & Shawn McManus (DC)
  • Countdown #50 of 51 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, J. Calafiore & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Ex Machina #28, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fables #61, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice League of America #9, by Brad Meltzer & Ed Benes (DC)
  • World War Hulk: Prologue #1, by Peter David, Al Rio, Lee Weeks, Sean Phillips, and others (Marvel)
  • Artesia Afire HC vol 3, by Mark Smylie (ASP)
  • Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 HC vol 1, by David Petersen (ASP)
  • B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Hero by Night #3 of 4, by D.J. Coffman & Jason Embury (Platinum)

Shawn McManus does his own inking in this month’s Aquaman, and the art is looking better. Still not quite the McManus style I know and love, but still. I think my biggest gripe about the book at this point is that Aquaman is getting lost in his own book amongst the large cast, and he’s being treated as a kid besides. Considering this Aquaman has been around for over a year now, and Kurt Busiek wrote him as a pretty strong character, I would like Williams to bring him to the fore and show that he can really carry the book.

Speaking of artists, I probably shouldn’t be as hard on guys like Ed Benes as I am, artists who seem to be strongly influenced by the Jim Lee/Rob Liefeld arm of the Image Comics style. While many details of his style are not to my taste, the guy does have some talent: In JLA #9, he not only draws a detailed panorama of gorillas riding giant lizards (and how can you not love a comic featuring such a scene?), but he can show some emotional range, as he does in a scene between Red Arrow and Power Girl.

The World War Hulk prologue is not really necessary, so I recommend you save your money for the real thing. Its main virtue is some nice artwork.

Mark Smylie’s Archaia Studios Press has become a nice little cottage industry over the last few years, and it releases two hardcover collections this week. ASP’s hardcovers are of very high quality (even the cover boards have illustrations, not just the dustjacket!), and they’re affordably priced at $24.95 – which for a comic book hardcover ain’t bad. I suspect ASP is targeting selling these in mainstream bookstores, and I have heard that bookstores refuse to stock fiction hardcovers priced about $25 (although I can’t find a link to support this). Consequently, I wonder whether ASP is making money on these hardcovers, or simply paving the way for the paperbacks?

Anyway. I got on-board with Artesia after its first volume had finished, and I was impressed with the sophisticated subject matter (which, I should stress, is not for children), and especially Smylie’s well-choreographed layouts and lovingly-drawn panels. Two more volumes have taken the shine off the series for me, as the cast of characters is huge and Smylie doesn’t make their faces sufficiently different for me to be able to keep track of them all. The story is also moving along at a fairly slow pace, and it’s not clear where it’s all going. Moreover, most of the characters – including the title character – are not really very likeable. These points make it difficult for me to stay engaged and to appreciate the series’ good points. Perhaps I need to go back and re-read all three volumes in a chunk and see if I’m missing something, or if the series really is just missing me. (A summary of Artesia here.)

On the flip side, Mouse Guard was a fun little series about the world of mice and their little medieval society. The art is simple yet effective, and it’s just good escapism. I hear a sequel series will start up soon.

Hero by Night #3 makes me wonder whether we should declare a moratorium on origin stories in superhero comics: Its first two issues concerned how its protagonist found the ring which gives him super powers, but the story only really gets moving in #3 when he starts using them and confronting the pros and cons of doing so. Maybe more comics just need to start in medias res and not from the very beginning. Let’s get straight to the excitement!

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 4 April 2007.

This week’s 52 may be the most muddled issue of the series. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, or why I should care. Didn’t they finish up the Intergang stuff months ago? Bleah.

My Dad I think summed up my feelings about Jack of Fables best in an e-mail: “When it was dealing with the group that captured him, it was pretty good, but when it’s just about his jerky self, not too hot.” Jack really is a jerk, and actually no one in the series is really someone you can root for. And the art is pretty so-so. I don’t think I’ll be buying it much longer.

“Planet Hulk” ends this month, and it’s just interesting enough that maybe I will pick up World War Hulk this summer.

I’ve been curious about Invincible for a long time now. The premise is that the hero is the son of a Superman-type figure who got married and had a kid, and Invincible inherits Omni-Man’s powers. (I’ve been spoiled and know that there’s more to it than that, but that’s the crux of the premise.) I did the math and it turns out that buying the Ultimate Collection hardcovers is about the same price as buying the trade paperbacks, and the hardcovers are, well, hardcover, not to mention using larger pages. Hence I went for the hardcover.

I’m about 4 issues into the volume so far, and it’s quite good. Robert Kirkman’s wry sense of humor brings a welcome levity (and reality) to what in many ways is a silver age comic series updated for the modern day. On the downside, the characters are pretty thin: The heroes are defined almost entirely by their powers, and the supporting cast have basically no personality. There’s no depth. Maybe that will change over time (I think the series has run more than 30 issues so far). Considering the series so far feels like a father/son series mixed with a coming-of-age story (and fortunately without the wacky hijinks that often accompany the “teenager discovers he has super powers” yarns these days, such as those which plagued Spyboy), it could benefit greatly from deeper characterization (but then, what story couldn’t?). Artist Cory Walker has a great sense of form and dynamism, but he could use an inker who could lend some complexity and (there’s that word again) depth to his layouts, as the art is often too spare for my tastes.

But overall, this one looks like a winner. The second collection is already out, and the third is due out this summer, so they ought to keep me busy for a while. Hopefully it gets better as it goes along.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 14 February 2007.

Okay, having tried it for a few weeks, I think I like my original format better:

  • 52 #41 of 52 (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #3 (DC)
  • Sandman Mystery Theatre: Sleep of Reason #3 of 5 (DC/Vertigo)
  • The Incredible Hulk #96-103 (Marvel)

That said, it was an undistinguished week. 52 and JSA both had pretty pedestrian issues. Sandman has its points of interest, but Eric Nguyen’s skechy artwork turns me off: Backgrounds are rare, peoples’ faces usually look strained or pained, characters are difficult to tell apart… I think the story would do much better with a more realistic art style.

I bought the rest of the “Planet Hulk” storyline to date (apparently it will run through #105). It occurred to me while reading these eight issues that the story is focusing mainly on the Hulk, and Bruce Banner hardly appears at all. It mainly concerns the influence that Hulk has on those around him, how they learn from his demeanor and aggressiveness, and how that doesn’t always apply in different situations. The Hulk is unique because he’s learned to care about no one but himself, and he has the power to back it up; those who are more caring, or weaker, can’t get away with the same attitude. But Hulk also realizes that he’s his own worst enemy, though he’s come to accept this somewhat.

In a way, this story takes the gray Hulk from early in Peter David’s run and makes him more aloof and dispassionate: He’s not stupid, and he understands many of the subtleties of what’s going on around him, but mostly he doesn’t care. In the high-pressure arena that he’s landed on, that makes for an entertaining ride. (Aaron Lopresti’s artwork is darned nice, too.)

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 7 February 2007.

  • 52 #40 of 52 (DC)

    The long-running Luthor/Steel/Infinity Inc. storyline apparently comes to a conclusion here. Oddly, it seems entirely disconnected from the rest of the series’ storylines, so either there’s something else going on, or not everything is connected. The latter would be kind of lame, I think.

  • Justice Society vol. 2 TPB (DC)

    The completion of the reprint of All-Star Comics from the 1970s. This was and still is one of my all-time favorite superhero series (starring the Justice Society of America). Although in some ways too blunt and not very sophisticated, this was the seminal series exploring relationships between multiple generations of heroes, and was one of the first series to consider that heroes will eventually retire. A lot of series in the decades since owe a lot to the ground this series covered. If it has a downside, it’s that Joe Staton’s pencils in this volume (following the Wally Wood-dominated first half) seems a little too cartoony and simplistic. It’s still a fun read, though.

  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two #2 of 4 (DC/Wildstorm)

    The halfway point in this lengthy series (which will consist of three 4-issue series), it’s running a little late. I’m starting to wonder where Kurt Busiek is going with this particular story; although it focuses on the pair of brothers – one a crook, one a cop – and their lives in the 1970s, there’s a lot more that I hope gets resolved here. I think it will end up being either very ambitious, or rather scattered. But based on the series’ track record in the past, I’ll hope for the former.

  • Fantastic Four: The End #5 of 6 (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hulk #92-95 (Marvel)

    I’ve heard good things about the “Planet Hulk” storyline which begins with these issues, so I decided to pick them up. (They’re about a year old now, so I have some catching up to do.) The Hulk is exiled by other heroes to a peaceful but uninhabited world, but something goes wrong and he lands on a barbaric world with a variety of creatures, and is captured and turned into a gladiator. But clearly as he regains the strength he lost from his journey, he’s going to become a player.

    It’s not a terribly subtle story, but writer Greg Pak keeps his eyes on the prize: The Hulk is entirely self-absorbed, doesn’t trust anyone, but isn’t (any longer) a fool, either. Which makes him a very dangerous contestant who’s not willing to play by anyones rules. (This also explains why the Hulk isn’t taking part in the Civil War “event”.)

    So this seems like a promising beginning to what they say will be a 14-issue story. I suspect it will have the usual disappointment in that eventually the Hulk will have to return to Earth and leave behind anything he’s gained on this other world. But that’s the downside to ongoing series.

  • Ms. Marvel #12 (Marvel)

    The first year of this series has been extremely haphazard, in large part because the Civil War disrupted it a great deal. Writer Brian Reed says in the letter column here that the second year will take the series in a different direction, as our heroine comes to grips with the less-than-ideal conclusions of some of her battles. I’d be happy if it just becomes a more cohesive series with more direction.

  • newuniversal #3 (Marvel)
  • Dr. Blink: Superhero Shrink: Id. Ego. Superego! vol. 1 TPB (Dork Storm)

    This is a collection of the very funny superhero satire by John Kovalic (Dork Tower) and Christopher Jones. Kovalic leaves no turn unstoned among the mainstream heroes, with both obvious and subtle humor worked in. Jones’ artwork straddles the line between dynamic and cartoony, and although it’s not stellar, it has some fine moments. (It’s reminiscent of Michael Avon Oeming’s work on Powers, actually.) The book is dedicated by Bob Newhart and Kurt Busiek, and it certainly feels like a twisted reflection of Busiek’s Astro City.

    The collection features a mix of 2-pagers (or thereabouts) and a few long-form stories; the latter are by far the more successful, as the short gags get a little repetitive after a while. But it’s still a fun little package, and it’s in color, yet! I’ll certainly be on board for the second collection.