This Week’s Haul

This week marks I think the third collection of Matt Wagner’s Mage: The Hero Discovered I’ve bought. It’s not quite as nice as the 2005 collection, except that that edition contained a printing error (missing text in one of the chapters), which was certainly annoying. So I decided to pick up this one. Now… which one do I keep?

Meanwhile, I’m finally all caught up on both Green Lantern Corps and Captain America with the collections out this week.

  • American Vampire #8, by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque (DC/Vertigo)
  • Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6 of 6, by Grant Morrison, Lee Garbett, Pere Pérez, Alejandro Sicat & Walden Wong (DC)
  • Green Lantern Corps: Emerald Eclipse TPB, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Christian Alamy, Prentis Rollins & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #4, by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin & Cam Smith (DC)
  • Knight and Squire #2 of 6, by Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton (DC)
  • T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1, by Nick Spencer, Cafu & Bit (DC)
  • The Unwritten #19, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula #1 of 6, by Ian Edginton, Davide Fabbri & Tom Mandrake (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Captain America: Two Americas TPB, by Ed Brubaker, Luke Ross, Butch Guice & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Captain America: Forever Allies #4 of 4, by Roger Stern, Nick Dragotta, Marco Santucci, Patrick Piazzalunga, Brad Simpson, Chris Sotomayor & Andrew Crossley (Marvel)
  • Chew #15, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
  • Halcyon #1, by Marc Guggenheim, Tara Butters & Ryan Bodenheim (Image)
  • Mage: The Hero Discovered HC, by Matt Wagner (Image)
  • Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science #1 of 5, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne wraps up a week after Batman actually returned in Batman and Robin. As with most of Grant Morrison’s Batman stuff, it’s so-so. It’s not helped by the uninspired Image-style artwork of Lee Garrett.

This whole story has been hamstrung by the overly-convoluted plot, in which Darkseid sent Batman into the distant past, slowly working his way to the present, and pursued by a “hyper-adapter infestation”. First, why would Darkseid pursue such a plan, and why would he use Batman, who he’s got to think is one of the people most likely to defeat his plan? Why not just unleash the creature immediately, and by surprise? Well, one reason is the second problem, which is that the creature doesn’t seem so tough, since Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern wrap the thing up, stuff it into a time sphere, and send it off to oblivion. Weak stuff, especially since it’s not clear the thing could have gone toe-to-toe with any of that trio anyway.

Morrison was once a writer who – despite his flaws – produced some ground-breaking stuff for DC. While I wasn’t a fan of every bit of it, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, The Invisibles and JLA were all key comics for fans of their day who wanted more than routine superhero fare. But JLA seemed to have made more of a mark on Morrison’s writing style than the other way around, as Morrison’s work over the last few years has been only a little more than routine superhero fare – slightly unorthodox in its style, but when he went farther than that it produced the basically-unreadable Final Crisis.

So all of this raises the question: What is Grant Morrison really accomplishing at DC comics, for the readers? Honestly Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern work has felt more inspired and coherent than Morrison’s Batman and related titles. Maybe Morrison is a huge Batman fan and is having the time of his life writing the character, but I don’t think it really shows in the final product, which has been uneven at best.

At this point I think I’ve long since gotten the idea of what Morrison is doing here, and it’s not doing much for me, so as I said last week I think this is it for me with Morrison’s mainstream DC titles. Maybe I’ll check in again when he seems to be doing something different again.

The second issue of Knight and Squire is so much better than the first that I wonder why Paul Cornell decided to lead with the first issue at all. This one is a much better introduction to the characters: We already know they’re a Batman and Robin type of duo, but we see them operating in their hometown and how they relate to the locals (it’s cute and clever, really), and then they face off against a group of evil Morris dancers (no, really). It’s not a profound story, but it’s fun and funny and the right amount of ridiculous. I hope the rest of the series is more like this issue.
I’ve always been unaccountably fascinated by the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, a team of superhero-secret agents from a small publisher in the 1960s. The original series was not much to read compared to the typical Marvel Comic of the era, but they did have first-class artists (Wally Wood, Gil Kane, Steve Ditko, etc.). What hooked me was the short-lived series from Deluxe Comics in the mid-80s, which not only had true top-notch art talent (George Pérez, Dave Cockrum, Jerry Ordway, and unfortunately Keith Giffen at his artistic nadir), but also outstanding writing, highlighted by the characterization of Lightning, whose speed suit causes him to age rapidly, and after just a few years of use he’s now an old man. Unfortunately that series came to a premature end because Deluxe though the Agents were in the public domain, when in fact they were not. The owner (the late John Carbonaro) licensed the character to a couple other companies, but none of them really took off. Now, after the success of DC’s Archives collections of the series, DC is publishing a new series, which apparently has no continuity relationship to the earlier series.

This series is taking the Lightning angle and running with it: Using any of the Agents gear causes its wearer to rapidly burn out, much like the premise of Marvel’s 1980s series Strikeforce: Morituri. (I wonder if writer Nick Spencer realizes the resemblance?) The first issue is pretty good, and suggests that it’s going to be more of an espionage play-and-counterplay story with overtones of superheroics than the other way around, which could be interesting. The art by the single-named artists Cafu and Bit is quite good, strongly resembling that of Paul Gulacy, albeit with less use of shadow.

I doubt it will ever replace the 80s series in my heart, but it’s got promise.

It’s pretty hard to write a “end of the age of superheroes” story, especially one deploying the usual Justice League/Avengers paradigm as the team of protagonists. Bill Willingham’s Pantheon (which I liked) took a “if the heroes win” approach, while Rick Remender’s The End League (which I didn’t) took an “if the villains win” approach. Now Image is publishing Halcyon, in which Marc Guggenheim and Tara Butters seem to be taking an “all the villains stop being villains” angle (with the possibility that it’s actually a devious villainous plot). The series are immediately nervous that they’ll be rendered redundant (because, after all, what fun is it to be a superhero without supervillains to beat on?), but maybe I’m reading too much into it: This first issue is really just the set-up, with some foreshadowing, and it’s pretty well done. Certainly good enough for me to stick around for a while to see where it’s going.

The art by Ryan Bodenheim is pretty erratic. His style seems inspired by that of early Doug Mahnke, maybe with a little Frank Quitely. His layouts are pretty good, but not very dynamic. The darker characters are rendered better than the purer hero types. And his anatomy, especially of the women, seems a little off to me. On the other hand, he seems to have talent and everyone has to start somewhere (he’s drawn a few other things over the last decade, but this is my first exposure to him), so maybe he’ll develop.

This Week’s Haul

Actually not this week’s haul (which came out today), but the last two weeks’ hauls. You know how it goes…

Two Weeks Ago:

  • American Vampire #7, by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque (DC/Vertigo)
  • Madame Xanadu #27, by Matt Wagner & Celia Calle (DC/Vertigo)
  • Secret Six #26, by Gail Simone & Jim Calafiore (DC)
  • Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #5 of 6, by Peter Hogan, Chris Sprouse & Karl Story (DC/America’s Best Comics)
  • Captain America: Forever Allies #3 of 4, by Roger Stern, Nick Dragotta & Marco Santucci (Marvel)
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. #4, by Jonathan Hickman & Dustin Weaver (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #10, by Mark Waid, Horacio Domingues, Juan Castro & Michael Babinski (Boom)
  • The Boys #47, by Garth Ennis & Russ Braun (Dynamite)

Last Week:

  • Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5 of 6, by Grant Morrison, Ryan Sook, Pere Pérez & Mick Gray (DC)
  • Green Lantern #58, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #3, by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin & Cam Smith (DC)
  • Knight & Squire #1 of 6, by Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton (DC)
  • Superman #703, by J. Michael Straczynski, Eddy Barrows & J.P. Mayer (DC)
  • The Unwritten #18, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs. Jeckyll/Hyde special, by Ian Edginton & Horacio Domingues (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Casanova #4, by Matt Fraction & Gabriel Bá (Marvel/Icon)
  • Echo #25, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Irredeemable #18, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
I’m not entirely sure what to make of Paul Cornell. He’s a very inventive writer, but his plotting is rather scattershot, and more portentous than meaningful. I had this feeling when I read his novel Something More, and the first episode of Doctor Who he wrote, “Father’s Day” (though he did get the emotional center of that one right, even if the story didn’t make a lot of sense). His current run on Action Comics is in a similar vein. In a way he seems like Grant Morrison lite: An idea man, but his execution can feel haphazard and unsatisfying.

In fact, he’s picking up a couple of Grant Morrison creations in this new mini-series, Knight and Squire (okay, they first appeared in the silver age, but Morrison basically recreated them from whole cloth, since it’s not like “the English Batman and Robin” is a concept with legs all by itself), and Cornell reintroduces them here in a pub where heroes and villains gather to hang out, compelled by the magic of the place not to fight. It’s not a bad idea, but it’s an awkward way to introduce the main characters, throwing them into an Alan-Moore-esque “let’s introduce a hodge-podge of British heroes and villains all at once” story, characters that the reader really has no investment in. It’s more of a neat concept than a story – which again feels very Morrison-like.

So, it’s an okay beginning, but felt kind of inconsequential. Broxton’s art is nice, sort of Alan Davis crossed with Ed McGuinness. If this series is just going to be six cute vignettes, though, then I think it’ll be a disappointment. Hopefully Cornell’s got something larger planned, and something that focuses on the main characters.

Last month Mark Waid tweeted:

"In stores today: IRREDEEMABLE #17 -- maybe my favorite cliffhanger I've ever written, and @petergkrause nails it."

While it was a pretty good cliffhanger, honestly I’d kind of seen it coming. Partly as a result, I think both of Waid’s cliffhangers in this month’s books are better than that one: Incorruptible sees our villain-turned-hero and new sidekick rescuing (after a fashion) the Plutonian’s former girlfriend, and learning what her captors had planned – a plan which they apparently execute on the last page. Irredeemable builds a new plot thread out of whole cloth – plausibly, since it revolves around the world’s Batman-type character – with truly world-changing consequences (even by the standards of a Superman figure turned evil) on the final page.

Irredeemable has been consistently solid, but it felt like it was marking time until artist Peter Krause returned, and now it’s kicking into high gear. Incorruptible has been thrashing a bit, trying to find its voice and purpose (and it hasn’t really done so yet), being somewhat overwhelmed by the events in its companion title that the main character hasn’t really had much of a chance to shine, but it’s still got some good stuff, and I think it still has a good chance to improve – I’m just not quite sure what I want to see it do that would make it better. I think I’d like more of a focus on Max and the implications of his decision to turn good, since so far it mostly seems like a lot of adventuring and those implications are dealt with almost incidentally.