This Week’s Haul

  • Action Comics #894, by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #44, by Marc Guggenheim & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #28, by Matt Wagner & Marian Churchland (DC/Vertigo)
  • Time Masters: Vanishing Point #4 of 6, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Wonder Woman #604, by J. Michael Straczynski, Don Kramer, Eduardo Pansica & Jay Leisten (DC)
  • Zatanna #6, by Paul Dini & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Captain America #611, by Ed Brubaker & Daniel Acuña (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #584, by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • Incognito: Bad Influences #1 of 6, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Incorruptible #11, by Mark Waid & Marcio Takara (Boom)
  • Hellboy/Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice #1, by Evan Dorkin, Mike Mignola & Jill Thompson (Dark Horse)
  • Dynamo 5: Sins of the Father #5 of 5, by Jat Faerber & Júlio Brilha (Image Comics)
This month’s Action Comics has gotten a lot of press because it features a rare appearance by a Neil Gaiman character – in this case, Death – in a mainstream DC Universe title. Word is that Gaiman helped script her appearance, although oddly the character doesn’t really “feel” like the Death from Gaiman’s Sandman: She feels a little too much like a teenager, and a little too vague and mysterious than the character we’ve seen before. Yes yes, the whole joke about Death is that she’s a cheerful teenage girl doing this somewhat melancholy job, but the point is that it feels like her portrayal here misses the mark. Whether or not Gaiman wrote her, it feels like someone else. Not that what we have here is unlikeable, it just feels off.

Though Pete Woods does do a boffo job of drawing her.

What of the story itself? Lex Luthor has become so hard-headed these days that it’s basically a case of his irresistible force meeting Death’s immovable object – and she prevails, of course. It’s entertaining, but unfortunately the illumination it shines on Luthor’s character is that he’s pretty one-dimensional these days: Rather than the monomania about Superman that the silver age Luthor had, now he’s got a monomania about acquiring power. It’s unfortunate because it makes me a little more pessimistic that Luthor can really carry the title for much longer, unless Paul Cornell makes him a more nuanced figure.

Speaking of books I’m pessimistic about, the new JSA creative team arrives this month, and the results are not pretty.

I must admit I’m not really a fan of Scott Kolins’ art style these days: The overuse of gray tones, mixed with the painterly coloring job that accompanies it just feels overly rendered for the fairly straightforward books he’s illustrated. Honestly I liked the work he did on his run on The Flash with Geoff Johns a decade a ago better: Stylized, but with more interesting linework.

Marc Guggenheim’s story, for me, got a reaction of, “What, this again?” Jay Garrick – the original Flash – is considering retirement, to become mayor of a small city. An immensely powerful individual shows up to threaten that city, kicks the JSA’s ass until they get it together to put him down, but the victory is pyrrhic. The downer tone continues the feeling that Bill Willingham brought to the book, and I didn’t think it worked then, either. And it seems like we’re constantly seeing the golden age JSAers consider retiring, or coming out of retirement, or whatever. The whole issue felt tremendously manipulative and it was difficult to care about any of it, because it felt like the writer didn’t really understand or care about the characters.

Honestly I’m not sure why I’m even buying the book these days, as the team has really not been worth much since most of the golden age members were killed off in the 90s. It’s a sad thing when Geoff Johns’ run on the book looks like the good old days, because they really weren’t much good. With half a year left until issue #50, I’ll likely stick around that long to see if Guggenheim has something interesting planned for the landmark, but I think that’ll be it for me.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips bring us the first issue of the sequel to Incognito, a series I struggled enjoying at first, but which won me over completely in the final issue. This issue takes a step back from that last issue, being perhaps a little too cynical. It also feels like it’s treading on ground Brubaker previously covered in his outstanding series Sleeper (also with Phillips).

So that’s all a little disappointing, but Brubaker is too good a writer to let that keep him down: Zack Overkill is still trying to figure out his purpose in life now that he knows where he came from, and now that he’s working for a superspy-type organization. He has a tragic encounter from a figure from his past (well, not quite his past, but, well, you’ll see), and then gets assigned to infiltrate a villainous organization.

Incognito has struggled to make Zack someone the viewer can really feel for, but it mostly makes up for it in action, suspense, and clever plots. It’s probably the weakest of the Brubaker/Phillips books because of this character deficit, but it’s still quite good and decidedly different from most other superhero comics. If you enjoy a little pulp and noir in your action stories, check it out.

This Week’s Haul

Wow, a tiny week this week:

  • Blackest Night #4, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Oclair Albert, Vicente Cifuentes & David Beaty (DC)
  • DC Universe: Legacies #2 of 10, by Len Wein, Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert, Scott Kolins & J.H. Williams (DC)
  • Fables #96, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • The Boys #43, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
That cover to Brightest Day #4 has nothing at all to do with the contents of the issue. Okay, the two men who are the parts of Firestorm do show up, but the hero himself doesn’t, never mind as the “Black Lantern” version. What in the world is DC thinking? Do they have such little faith in the story that they can’t be bothered to come up with a cover that matches it?

To be sure, there’s very little story here, which is pretty much what happens when you only devote a few pages to each of a dozen or so characters. Hawkman and Hawkgirl are still following their stolen bodies from past lives, and have finally ended up in some alternate dimension. Something’s still up with Firestorm. Hawk has demanded that Deadman use the white power ring to try to bring his brother (the first Dove) back to life. Corpses show up in the Bermuda Triangle, and Mera seems to still be under the spell of the red power ring.

Brightest Day has been a total snooze-fest so far.

The second issue of DC Universe: Legacies reverses the pattern of the first one: The backup story, about the Seven Soldiers of Victory, is a total throwaway, unlike the interesting take on the Spectre and Doctor Fate in the back of the first issue. But the main story here is better than in the first issue, as it follows the main character through to the early 50s and the disbanding of the Justice Society, and the downfall of his friend who decided to go the criminal route. The story overall is not terribly strong, as the inspiration of the heroes on our protagonist is strong but simplistic, and I wonder how writer Len Wein can draw out this influence for the remaining 10 issues. I also wonder how he’ll cover the 50s through the 80s in this volume, as thanks to the march of time that’s a period when most of DC’s big-name heroes weren’t active (Superman, after all, would have only started his career in the mid/late 90s). Marvel had a whole series about this “missing era” in its history (Marvel: The Lost Generation, worth seeking out), but DC has mostly glossed over it. It’ll be hard for Wein to do the same here.

The big questions, though, are: Will this be more than a recapitulation of DC universe history, and what exactly are the “legacies” going to be? Or is the title going to end up not really being relevant to the story?

My enthusiasm for Fables has flagged a bit since the first story wrapped up in issue #75, but I think a lot of that is because the two main characters of that arc (Bigby Wolf and Boy Blue) have stepped off the stage, and no one’s really come in to replace them. There are many interesting plot elements, but the characters aren’t keeping me engaged.

Presently the series is doing a piece about Rose Red, the sister of Snow White, illuminating their childhood and how they ended up as such different people. While Rose Red is anything but a sympathetic character (she’s a schemer and a whiner, frankly), this run is otherwise one of the better stories of the last couple of years, as writer Bill Willingham gets to tell his reinterpretation of classic fairy tales, where he always takes their darker nature to heart. Here he presents Snow White’s famous tale (hinted at in the graphic novel 1001 Nights of Snowfall), and how and way it came to pass. And it’ll clearly be a big part of why Rose Red turned out the way she did. Fun stuff.

I do hope that the story gets back to the larger arc of the Dark Man who destroyed Fabletown, and presents some more heroic figures we can get behind in the fight against him, though.

This Week’s Haul

Despite all the books below, the two best reads I picked up this week were from the back catalog: Ed Brubaker’s Captain America: Road to Reborn TPB, which is something of an intermission in the series but is the latest collection available. Have I gushed about Brubaker’s Captain America already? Really excellent stuff, being more adventure in the pulp/suspense tradition using mainstream Marvel characters than straight-super superheroics. Basically unlike anything else Marvel is publishing today.

And then there’s Bryan Talbot’s Grandville HC, which on the one hand is an anthropomorphic graphic novel in that the lead character is a badger who walks and acts like a man and nearly every other character is also an animal, but on the other hand it’s a spy/intrigue story in an alternate world where France conquered the western world in the era of Napoleon, and in which Great Britain only recently won its independence. Talbot (correctly) ignores the peculiar inconsistencies that this could lead to in favor of telling a solid story with fine artwork (albeit slightly less detailed than his usual work). Unless anthropomorphic comics drive you up the wall and you just can’t get past that fact, I highly recommend it. The sequel is due out in a few months.

  • Adventure Comics #12, by Paul Levitz, Kevin Sharpe, Marlo Alquiza & Marc Deering (DC)
  • Brightest Day #3, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado, Vicente Cifuentes, David Bealy & Mark Irwin (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #39, by Bill Willingham Jesus Merino & Jesse Delperdang (DC)
  • Superman/Batman Annual 34, by Paul Levitz, Renato Guedes & Jose Wilson (DC)
  • Hercules: Twilight of a God #1 of 4, by Bob Layton & Ron Lim (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #1 of 4, by David Petersen, Jeremy Bastian, Ted Naifeh & Scott Keating (Archaia)
  • Freakangels vol 4 TPB, by Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield (Avatar)
  • Irredeemable #14, by Mark Waid & Diego Barreto (Boom)
  • Invincible #72, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley & Cliff Rathburn (Image)
Heh, I knew the current JSA storyline would involve time travel to set things straight. The time travel in question involves “only” sending a message back in time, and the suspense is that it’s not clear whether the message will be understood or received at the right time, but surely everything will work out for the best.

The core setting of the story draws from many different elements: The superheroes being imprisoned and having to escape is very similar to the “Super-Stalag of Space” story featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes from Adventure Comics #343-344. The grim future where the heroes have been all but eliminated unless they can find a way to change one event in the past was the premise of Grant Morrison’s best JLA arc, “Rock of Ages”. And of course both of those elements form the seminal X-Men dystopian tale, “Days of Future Past”.

So while this is a decent enough JSA yarn, it’s a far cry from being groundbreaking or original. I suspect there are a couple of issues left, so Willingham may yet surprise us, but it’s been pretty much what I expected otherwise.

I guess the hardcover collections of Bob Layton’s great Hercules mini-series of the 1980s must have been well received, since this week we got the first chapter of a new installment in the run, Hercules: Death of a God. Taking place centuries in the future, as the first two did, Herc has a son who’s become a emperor of a galactic empire, a benevolent monarch educated by his father. Arimathes has several children of his own now, and is not immortal, unlike his father. However, at the beginning of the issue Hercules suffers a traumatic brain injury, one so severe that the empire’s doctors fear that another serious blow could kill him. He takes medication for his condition, but it interacts badly with his drinking. And Herc’s longtime companions are nearing their own ends, as Skyppi the Skrull is quite old, while the Recorder appears to be wearing down. All of this is set against the backdrop of people scheming to their own ends within the empire.

The series has (in my mind) a huge legacy to live up to, Layton’s originals being well-drawn and often-hilarious comics with plenty of heart. This first issue is a little disappointing, as it seems like Herc is limping off into the darkness rather than going out like a lion. Of course, it would be in keeping with the tone of the series for him to face one last big threat rather than going quietly. It would be even more in keeping for him to beat his condition entirely.

Ron Lim does the pencilling under Layton’s inks, whereas Layton drew the whole thing himself in the earlier series. Lim seems to be Marvel’s go-to guy when a top tier artist can’t make their deadlines; he’s reliable, but not very flashy, having a rather generic style. So overall the series doesn’t quite look as good, but it’s okay.

So the first issue is something of a mixed bag, whereas I’d been hoping it would knock my socks off. But, it still might.

This Week’s Haul

If not for Atomic Robo, it would have been an all-DC week for me!

  • American Vampire #3, by Scott Snyder, Stephen King & Rafael Albuquerque (DC/Vertigo)
  • Brightest Day #2, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado, Vicente Cifuentes, Tom Nguyen, Rebecca Buchman & David Beaty (DC)
  • Ex Machina #49, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
  • DC Universe: Legacies #1 of 10, bu Len Wein, Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert, Scott Kolins & J.G. Jones (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #1, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Zatanna #1, by Paul Dini, Stephane Roux & Karl Story (DC)
  • Atomic Robo and the Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #3 of 4, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
I’m a sucker for stories featuring the original Justice Society members, so despite the goofy logo (which looks like the early-80s Legion of Super-Heroes logo) and the wacky perspective on Doctor Fate on that cover, I picked up DC Universe: Legacies #1 anyway. Writer Len Wein has been writing comics since the late 1960s, but he’s never really been associated with the JSA before, and honestly though he’s done some noteworthy work (he co-created the Swamp Thing and the “new” X-Men, for instance), his actual stories have never rocked my world. So I expected a decent enough story but nothing that I’d rave about.

The first story in this issue met those expectations, being a somewhat contrived story about a pair of boys working for various crooks in the late 30s, one of whom wants to get deeper into the criminal life, while the other one starts to idolize the mystery men popping up around the country and has second thoughts. They have a close encounter with Sandman and The Atom (and Sandman certainly feels very weird here after reading his less athletic adventures in Sandman Mystery Theatre) which feels a little too rah-rah from heroes to kids, to me. And the issue ends with the tone of a cliffhanger as to what the kids will do, although it’s pretty clear how it will turn out.

The second story, though, is much better: It involves a reporter looking into escapades of Doctor Fate and the Spectre around the same time, and being deeply skeptical of mystical heroes doing the impossible, and even uncovers evidence of fraud in their exploits. As a window on how the average man might have thought of genuine superpowered heroes when they first emerged, it’s actually quite clever and to the point.

As a whole the first issue of Legacies doesn’t equal the better “man-in-the-street” superhero comics like those by Kurt Busiek, and I don’t really know why it’s called “Legacies” from this issue (it just seems like an excuse to tell some period stories with the JSA), but overall it’s a solid first issue, with good art by the Kuberts and by J.G. Jones. With a 10 issue run, I’ll probably stick around for the whole thing.

Perhaps the most beloved era of the long-running series Legion of Super-Heroes was Paul Levitz’ run – mostly with Keith Giffen and Greg LaRocque – in the 1980s.

Beloved by many, perhaps, but not by me. With a few exceptions (mainly the earliest Giffen issues and the gorgeous art of Steve Lightle between Giffen and LaRocque), I found the whole thing rather cynical and depressing. Characters were altered for no good reason beyond recognizability (Timber Wolf, for instance, had been a heroic and tragic figure, but became a rather stupid Wolverine clone), were killed to no good effect (offing Karate Kid was one of the stupidest deaths in comics history, with no emotional impact whatsoever), wore some awful costumes (Element Lad’s nifty blue-and-green outfit was replaced by a pink outfit even worse than his original one), and the team gradually spiraled downwards from heroic figures in an exciting future world to one of death, destruction, grisly politics, and pyrrhic victories. (Keith Giffen then punctuated this after Levitz left with his grim “Five Years Later” stories.)

Compared to the Legion stories of the 60s and 70s – some of which were written by Levitz in his first go-round on the title – it was pretty weak and depressing stuff.

Now, after two reboots, the original Legion is back (thanks to Geoff Johns’ story “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes”) and in their own series, with Levitz returning for his third run, having recently stepped down from being President and Publisher of DC. A good thing?

One interesting twist is that it appears the events of the series after Levitz’ second run have been retconned to not have happened. Levitz writes a text piece at the end of this first issue where he explains that out understanding of the Legion’s era is constantly changing and some stories told in the past may have been inaccurate, or not have happened. It’s not only unusual, it’s a tacit admission by DC that the reboots of the last 20 years have been failures of approach as well as of substance, that they never captured the essence of what was once one of DC’s most popular titles. But then, DC’s been on a big retro kick lately, so going back to the 80s characters and their 80s writer fits right in.

But is the story any good? Well, sort of. Earth is trying to rejoin the United Planets, and the Legion is trying to reestablish itself on Earth in the wake of the xenophobia fostered by Earth-Man and his gang of psychopaths in the aforementioned Superman story. The issue opens with Earth-Man being drained of his powers, but then we learn that Earthgov is going to require that Earth-Man become a Legionnaire if the Legion is going to stay on Earth. Meanwhile, Saturn Girl visits her homeworld of Titan (yes, the moon of Saturn), where the Time Institute has also established itself, but some of their researchers commit the inevitable crime of viewing the dawn of the universe, which results in the destruction of Titan, despite the Legion’s best effort. Saturn Girl takes one of the last time spheres to find her missing twin sons. And lastly, Earth-Man is confronted with a mysterious entity from Oa and offered membership in the Green Lantern Corps.

There’s a lot of stuff here, and some of it is interesting, while some of it feels gratuitious (the destruction of Titan feels pointlessly sadistic, much as the destruction of Vulcan did in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film) or nonsensical (Earth-Man’s recent history includes throwing aliens into concentration camps, which makes Earthgov forcing him on the Legion seem downright sick and completely implausible unless Levitz is going to show Earthgov to be completely corrupt). Not to mention that the Time Institute researchers really should have known better than to view the dawn of time, given the chaos that act has caused in the past. So the story is shaky, with character motivations that are frustrating at best. Not the best start.

The high point of the issue if Yildiray Cinar’s artwork (and, secondarily, his name!). While some of his panels are strangely simplistic in their renderings, others are compelling in their composition and detail, especially the ones involving Brainiac 5. His approach is a little rough, but he shows a lot of promise.

Writing the Legion has always been a tall order due to the size of its cast, its futuristic setting, and its tenuous link to the rest of the DC Universe. Unfortunately Levitz’ approach to the series has always felt to me like it robbed the Legion of their inherent fun and sense of scope, and this first issue doesn’t make me optimistic that the new series will be an improvement. I’m sure I’m in the minority among Legion fans, though, as I think this series does feel very much like Levitz’ last run on the title. Strange that after 20 years it feels like there’s so little difference, but then, Levitz hasn’t done a whole lot of writing (on the Legion or any other title) in that span, so perhaps that’s not very surprising.

It is disappointing, though. I’d much rather have the fun Legion of the 60s and 70s back. But I guess the reboots tried to do that and they weren’t very successful, either. But was that because they weren’t very good, or because they didn’t feel like the real Legion?

I’ve been a lukewarm towards Paul Dini’s comics in the past, but Zatanna – which debuts this week – is quite fun, if a bit brutal, as it involves evil wizards killing a group of mobsters in some particularly brutal ways. But it also sets up Zatanna as a sort of consulting detective to law enforcement where magic is concerned, and something of an enforcer to keep the evil wizards in line. Zee’s been portrayed in the past as a more above-board counterpart to John Constantine, so that role suits her. She feels maybe just a tad too mysterious here compared to her past portrayals, but one could argue that she’s also just grown up some more since her days with the JLA and Constantine. It’s a promising start to the series.

Stephane Roux’s art is excellent, ably supporting Dini’s story. His work is a little reminiscent of Alan Davis’ and even more so of Ryan Sook’s (perhaps not a coincidence, since Sook drew the Zatanna series in Seven Soldiers). I hope he sticks around for a while.

This Week’s Haul

  • Batman and Robin #9, by Grant Morrison & Cameron Stewart (DC)
  • Blackest Night #7 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • The Flash: Rebirth #6 of 6, by Geoff Johns, Ethan Van Scyver & Scott Hanna (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #36, by Bill Willingham, Jesus Merino & Jesse Delperdang (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #20, by Matt Wagner, Joëlle Jones & David Hahn (DC/Vertigo)
  • Victorian Undead #4 of 6, by Ian Edginton, Davide Fabbri & Tom Mandrake (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Avengers: The Korvac Saga HC, by Jim Shooter, Len Wein, Roger Stern, David Michelinie, George Pérez, Sal Buscema, David Wenzel, Klaus Janson, Pablo Marcos & others (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #576, by Jonathan Hickman & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • The Marvels Project #6 of 8, by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • Irredeemable #11, by Mark Waid, Peter Krause & Diego Barreto (Boom)
This month’s Batman and Robin is hands-down the best issue of the series so far. Overlooking the rather obvious solution to getting the critically-injured Batwoman out of the cave where the two Batmen fought last issue (ah, the joys of a readily-available deus ex machina), Morrison manages to pull off everything he tries here: The faux Batman returns to Gotham and faces off with Robin, who’s recovering from a spine transplant (!). The impostor speaks in broken English with a mix of old and new styles of Batman jargon, and is gradually decaying as the story goes on. Robin and Alfred put up a stiff fight (always nice to see Alfred show he’s more than just a butler), and then Batman and Batwoman show up to put things away. Robin gets a justified jab in at Batman’s behavior at the end. And Cameron Stewart’s art is outstanding, the finest the series has yet seen (I hate the hair style he and Frank Quitely have saddled Dick Grayson with, though). For a change, I liked this issue better than Greg Burgas did.

The series has been something of a mess so far, because Morrison spends too much time messing around with either peripheral elements, or with the “bigger picture” of what’s going on in the Batman universe, even though that bigger picture is rather silly. (Consider, after all, the Batman here doesn’t even wonder who might have put a fake body – which managed to fool Superman – in place of the original Batman.) If he could just focus on the relationship between Batman and Robin, this would be a much better series.

The delayed finale of The Flash: Rebirth shows up this week. Although Ethan Van Scyver’s artwork is always nice to see (though it seems much less detailed here than usual), this has been a rather pedestrian story all around, certainly not nearly as good as the last time Geoff Johns brought a hero back from the dead. Of course, Green Lantern: Rebirth had to explain why Hal Jordan went bad so he could return to being a hero, whereas Barry Allen has been sainted by DC heroes and fanboys for decades now, so this story was just about giving him a threat big enough to reinstate him among the DC pantheon. And Johns pulls in all the usual Flash tropes, most of them (naturally enough) from Mark Waid’s remarkable run on the title: The Reverse-Flash, the extended Flash family, and the Speed Force. He throws in a retcon where Barry’s father was arrested for the murder of his mother, and a bit of time travel involving the beginning of Barry’s career, but it’s otherwise a pretty routine modern-day Flash story, actually not up to the standards of Johns’ own run on Wally West’s series.

To be fair, a friend of mine described Johns’ Green Lantern relaunch shortly after it began as “the least necessary relaunch in comics”, and it ended up being considerably more interesting than that. With an ongoing Flash series on the way, Johns may be able to work similar magic there. But this isn’t a promising start.

Why do I get the feeling that we’re finally getting to the Justice Society of America story that Bill Willingham really wanted to tell? The last several issues have been nothing more than a fairly stupid way to split the JSA into two teams, getting (mostly) the marginal members into the JSA All-Stars series (where they can be safely ignored) and paring the core team down to manageable levels. Here we jump right into the story – 20 years in the future, where Mr. Terrific is imprisoned by a new regime which has captured and is executing the JSA members. He’s dictating his memoir, expecting his own end to come soon, explaining how the new regime came into power, with a group of Nazi-oriented villains attacking the JSA and killing Green Lantern.

It’s not like we haven’t seen set-ups like this before, but Willingham seems to enjoy and excel at telling war stories, so even if this ends up being resolved through the miracle of time travel, it could still be fun.

This Week’s Haul

A light week, for a change:

  • Justice Society of America Annual #2, by Keith Giffen, Matthew Sturges, Tom Derenick & Rodney Ramos (DC)
  • Criminal #4, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Nova #34, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Mahmud A. Asrar & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • The Boys #39, by Garth Ennis, John McCrea & Keith Burns (Dynamite)
The early contender for “worst comic book of 2010” is Justice Society of America Annual #2. This thing was terrible.

The cover is awful. The characters’ faces look grotesque. The prominent feature of the cover is Power Girl’s breasts (really?? That never happens!). And although it’s presumably depicting the other characters’ disgust for Magog (a disgust which, frankly, I share), the composition is such that it’s not portrayed very clearly (at first I thought it was a standard “team vs. team” cover).

The interior art is a little better, but nothing special. The story, though, is truly terrible. The way the JSA has split into two teams was handled ham-handedly, and this story features the spin-off team, the All-Stars, showing up at a prison (a large, rather palatial prison, it seems) to deal with a riot purportedly started by Magog. None of the team (his own team!) really trusts Magog – especially Power Girl – even though these are supposedly the characters who left the core JSA with him to form their own team, seemingly because they sympathized with his outlook. Then the villains in the prison show up and it turns into an all-out fight, between the heroes and the villains, and between Magog and his supposed teammates. Then the other JSA team shows up and everything gets thrown even more into chaos. Meanwhile, some apparently-villainous group I’ve never heard of is using the prison as a lab facility, which is why Magog went there in the first place.

None of this makes even the first lick of sense. Magog seems about as bright as a couple bags of hammers, but his communication skills are near zero. How’d he find out about the prison being a cover? Why did he go in alone? Why was his own team so willing to believe the worst about him? And the fight isn’t even well choreographed.

The point of the story seems to be to get Magog off the All-Stars team, to which I say: Good riddance to bad rubbish. But almost all of the characters behave badly, the plot is nonsensical, the art isn’t much to look at, and it feels like a routine 2-issue story for some reason shoved into an annual. Was it really necessary? Haven’t there been plenty of opportunities to show Magog the door in the last six months?

The regular JSA book has been rather dour since Bill Willingham started writing it – it’s been well over a decade since someone’s done a JSA series which captures the spirit of the team – and this annual piles a muddled story on top of that feeling. It may be time to bail on this series.

This Week’s Haul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JSA vs. Kobra #6 page 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week’s Haul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #21, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Fables #85, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Tony Akins, Andrew Pepoy & Dan Green (DC/Vertigo)
  • The Flash: Rebirth #3 of 5, by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Scyver (DC)
  • JSA vs. Kobra #1 of 6, by Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • The Unwritten #2, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel TPB, by Kevin Grevioux, Mat Broome, Roberto Castro, Sean Parsons, Álvaro López & Lorenzo Ruggiano (Marvel)
  • The Unknown #2 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Unthinkable #2 of 5, by Mark Sable & Julian Totino Tedesco (Boom)
  • B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #3, by John Arcudi & Karl Moline (Dark Horse)
  • The Life and Times of Savior 28 #3, by J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Cavallaro (IDW)
The Flash: Rebirth #3 The Flash: Rebirth gets downright silly in this issue: Barry is the new Black Flash, a sort of reaper of people tied to the Speed Force, which was one of the dumber ideas from the Grant Morrison/Mark Millar fill-in sequence during Mark Waid’s run a decade or so ago. Since Barry’s presence threatens the lives of the other speedsters, he decides to return to the Speed Force (basically committing suicide), but of course as he gets there we find out that an old enemy seems to be mixed up in the proceedings. This is all amazingly trite, seemingly sending this series on the fast track (ha!) to irrelevance.

The issue’s best moment is when it evokes memories of the old “Who’s faster, Superman or the Flash?” races, when Supes tries to stop Flash, saying that he’d won some of their past races. Flash replies, “Those were for charity, Clark”, and takes off faster than Superman can even see.

In a better story, scenes like that would be an “Oh, that’s clever” moment to lighten the drama, but that it’s actually one of the high points is a little depressing. There are some hints that there’s a little more going on here, but only hints, so far. Unfortunately, Rebirth continues to be dogged by the fact that there just wasn’t any good reason to bring Barry back from the dead, especially as Wally has filled his shoes so ably. There wasn’t a real good reason to bring Hal Jordan back as Green Lantern, either, but in that case Johns constructed a clever story explaining why things had gone bad in the first place, and why he could come back and resume his previous role. That sort of explanation is sorely missing here, at least so far.

JSA vs. Kobra #1 JSA vs. Kobra is a mini-series pitting the superhero team against an extraordinary terrorist groups that’s been running around the DC Universe for decades, the rationale for the confrontation being that Mr. Terrific is not just a JSAer, he’s also the White King of the government organization Checkmate, which I guess has a history with Kobra. Nonetheless, my impression is that this is one of the least-necessary mini-series of recent years, as Kobra is a group whose day came and went about, oh, thirty years ago. The first issue involves Kobra embarking on several missions which seem to be misdirection to keep the JSA ignorant of what they’re really up to.

The art seems weirdly stiff. Don Kramer’s pencils seem okay, though rather subdued, but I suspect it’s a combination of Michael Babinski’s inks and the weirdly painterly coloring job by Art Lyon that give it a frozen look and feel. There are books their combined style could work with, but a superhero title isn’t it, I think.

The second issue will have to be a big step up, or this is one mini-series I might not even get to the end of.

Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel TPB I missed most of Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel when it came out, so I picked up the paperback this week. The premise is very similar to The Sentry as he was first presented: A silver age Superman-like hero disappears at the height of his career, and today he’s barely remembers, but today’s heroes have to find him when his greatest enemy reappears and no one else can stop him.

The main difference is that the Sentry was mentally disturbed and his enemy was actually a manifestation of the dark side of his mind, while the Blue Marvel is a black man who was asked by President Kennedy to step down once his identity became known. The other difference is the the Sentry’s existence was wiped from everyone’s memory, even though he was friends with practically everyone in the Marvel Universe, while the Blue Marvel operated before today’s heroes came on the scene, so to them he’s a legend, practically a myth.

Both are good series, although overall I think The Sentry was a better series, because his background was more complex and more personally tragic, and his interactions with the other heroes made his story more nuanced. The Blue Marvel has to carry his book on his own, and he’s a little too generic a character to pull it off: A little downtrodden, but also a through-and-through hero who always does the right thing regardless of the circumstances. The indignant reactions of Iron Man and others to how he was treated 45 years ago are very heavy-handed. The book’s heart is in the right place, but it ends up feeling rather lightweight, and the tragic moment during the climax feels unnecessary and disappointing.

It seems that Mat Broome was replaced by Roberto Castro part-way through, and I don’t think Castro’s style works very well following up on Broome’s polished pencils. It’s too bad Broome couldn’t do the whole series.

In a way, Adam is one of the more ambitious superhero books from Marvel in a while, but I don’t think Kevin Grevioux quite got it all to work. It’s an interesting effort, though, and I don’t regret giving it a try.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #23, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Ex Machina #42, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Jack of Fables #34, by Bill Willingham Matthew Sturges, Russ Braun & José Marzán Jr. (DC/Vertigo)
  • Far West #1, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • Gigantic #4 of 5, by Rich Remender & Eric Nguyen (Dark Horse)
  • Invincible #62, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
The Brave and the Bold #23 In a way, the best part of The Brave and the Bold is the wonky character team-ups, and matching second-stringer Booster Gold (time-traveling self-promoting superhero) with fifth-stringer Magog (irrelevant Justice Society member based on a villain from an alternate future) is about as wonky as they come. You’d think with Booster Gold creator Dan Jurgens doing the story and art that it would be a nice side-trip from the enjoyable Booster Gold series.

Unfortunately it’s not a Booster Gold story at all: Booster sees Rip Hunter apparently fighting Magog on his way back from another time period, and when Booster goes to see what Magog is up to in the present day, he finds that Magog’s reckless behavior puts innocent people at risk, and he’s disgusted at Magog’s viciousness. But this just tells us what we’ve suspected about Magog all along (although he’s a little nastier here than he is in JSA) and the fact that Booster is the hero who sees is it really just coincidence. There’s a little irony in that Booster used to have a cavalier approach to heroics himself, but he’s grown up now. Magog’s motivations are completely different from Booster’s, though, so the parallel doesn’t really work.

So the story’s thinner than I’d hoped; it would have worked better had it somehow been spun to be a Booster Gold story, not a Magog story. But, wonky team-ups are risky things, since it’s hard to throw two unrelated characters together and make the story work. Jurgens gave it a good try (and his art is as smooth and polished as ever), but I don’t think he pulled it off.

Far West: Bad Mojo #1 My comic shop found me a copy of the first issue of Richard Moore’s Far West to go with the second issue from a couple weeks back. I wasn’t too impressed with Moore’s recent series Fire and Brimstone, but I’ve enjoyed his series Boneyard for several years. (It’s one of the few series Debbi reads, too.)

Far West is somewhere in between: In a mythical Wild West, gunfighters, trains and saloons exist alongside dragons, ogres and spirits. Our heroes are Meg and Phil, a gunfighting half-elf woman and an anthropomorphic bear, who are also the best bounty hunters in the area. In Bad Mojo they’ve pursued their quarries into the Deadlands, where things are decidedly not what they seem.

Far West is predicated on Meg being a tough-as-nails smartass, with Phil playing her straight man as she drags him into situations that are more than he bargained for. It works pretty well, although Phil is definitely the second fiddle to his partner, especially here, in which Phil plays comic relief while Meg’s background is revealed and her personality is tested. The series doesn’t have the variety of character interaction of Boneyard, but it’s also not sheer fluff like Fire and Brimstone. I bet Far West could be a good ongoing series if developed as such, as Moore seems content to do the occasional short piece, like this two-issue series, and that’s fine.

And happily, I understand there will be more Boneyard soon.