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This Week's Haul

A friend of mine told me that I read a shitload of comic books. I’m not sure whether he meant an imperial shitload, or a metric shitload, but whatever crappy units you use, this week was another big load:

  • The Flash: Rebirth #2 of 5, by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Sciver (DC)
  • Blackest Night #0, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert & Rob Hunter (DC)
  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three #1 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Power Girl #1, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • War of Kings #3 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Far West: Bad Mojo #2 of 2, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • Fire and Brimstone #5 of 5, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • Irredeemable #2, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • The Boys #30, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • The Life and Times of Savior 28 #2, by J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Cavallero (IDW)
  • Star Trek: Crew #3 of 5, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910 by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf)
Blackest Night #0 A friend asked if I was going to review Blackest Night #0, which was part of Free Comic Book Day, and how could I resist a direct request?

Blackest Night is this year’s big event in the DC Universe, although writer Geoff Johns says it’s a story he’s wanted to do since he relaunched Green Lantern. There’s a hint of it back in the Black Hand story in the series’ first year, so clearly Johns has had something in mind since then.

This is one of the higher-quality FCBD issues from the Big Two that I can recall: It’s the beginning of a larger story, written by one of their big name writers with solid art (although I’m not entirely sold on Ivan Reis as a top-tier guy). It also does a pretty good job of recapitulating the set-up of Green Lantern, explaining the assortment of “Lantern Corps” through a series of pin-ups, leading into the main story, and also providing a bit of insight into the hero through GL’s dialogue with the Flash, reminiscing about their fallen friends and especially GL’s relationship with Batman. It’s not a complete story in itself – though you can’t fault DC for using a freebie as advertising for the rest of the story – but for what it is it’s quite good.

As I’ve said of late, Green Lantern is probably Geoff Johns’ best work. This issue might not completely sell you on the series – especially since it has a complex backstory at this point – but it certainly tries its darndest. I approach all big events in comics with trepidation, and I don’t have much confidence that it will, as Johns says in his afterword, “recharge the DC Universe”, but I think it could be a fine, fun story.

So check it out. You can’t beat the price.

Power Girl #1 Superman’s almost-cousin Power Girl gets her own ongoing series this month. Thankfully she’s seemingly past the ridiculous identity crisis that plagued her JSA Classified story a few years ago, but the challenge for the series is to give her a reason for being a headliner. PG has always been at her brightest when she plays a counterpoint to other characters – she was, after all, conceived as a young, upstart counterpoint to the stodgy Golden Age Superman – but she’s had trouble leading up her own stories, because she’s not really grounded in anything but being one of the heavy-hitters on a super-team. I assume her appeal is a mix of her (ahem) physique and her strong, no-nonsense personality. Neither of those are really enough to carry a series, but filling her with angst over her background runs counter to her essential personality, and is why the JSA Classified story didn’t work.

This first issue restores her Karen Starr identity from the 70s, in which she’s the head of a tech company. As PG, she fights a bunch of constructs controlled by the Ultra-Humanite (who must be back from irrelevance for about the fifth time by now). It’s okay, but it’s only the barest of groundwork for putting together a complete series about the character. Abnett and Lanning tend to hit more than they miss, but they’ve got their work cut out for them. At least they’re aided and abetted by the always-terrific artwork of Amanda Conner.

I may be a bit skeptical, but I’m pulling for this one to succeed. And not just because PG is a babe!

Astro City: The Dark Age vol 3 #1 Astro City: The Dark Age finally continues with the third part of – I think – four. For those who’ve forgotten – and given the series’ publishing schedule (for which the creators frequently apologize) – it focuses on Astro City in the 1970s and 80s, especially a pair of brothers, one a cop, one a small-time hood, who witness and frequently get caught up in the larger events going on during the time.

Kurt Busiek has said that The Dark Age is the story he’d originally come up with as a sequel to Marvels, but when Marvel didn’t seem interested in it, he reworked it for Astro City. And then came up with a sequel for Marvels anyway, the currently-running Eye of the Camera. Unsurprisingly, since the two series cover the same time period, they have a very similar feel, a general bleakness and foreboding which accompanies the outre and often violent heroes and anti-heroes who peppered comic books of the era. Both series also whip through a large number of events, focusing on their characters from time to time, but often leaving me with a feeling that I’ve missed an awful lot and that I’m not getting the careful exploration of the main characters that I’ve come to expect from Busiek’s writing. In both cases, it seems like he’s trying to jam too much into the series, and that’s saying something given the length of The Dark Age.

I’m hoping that The Dark Age will come to some transcendent climax which will justify the series’ length and some of the larger-than-life keynote moments (the SIlver Agent’s death, and the Apollo Eleven team, for instance), while still bring a sense of closure to the brothers’ lives. It’s a tall order, really. Busiek’s one of the very best writers in comics, but I wonder whether he’s bitten off more than he can handle, here.

Fire and Brimstone #5 Richard Moore’s Fire and Brimstone wraps up this week. The story of an angel and a demon who have been tasked with rounding up a collection of demons they accidentally unleashed on the world millennia ago has been little more than a diversion from his on-hiatus series Boneyard, with wacky and sexy hijinks and not a whole lot of a story (the cover to the left sums up the tone of the series rather well). This last issue involves a deity-turned-hitman gunning for our heroines, with a somewhat tried-and-predictable resolution. It’s nice to see Moore’s art in color, but overall the series has been fluff.

The second half of a new Far West story by Moore also came out this week – but I missed the first issue, so I haven’t read it yet. Thumbing through it I see the pencils are un-inked; Moore’s a fine artist, but his stuff looks a lot better when it’s been inked.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910 I was resoundingly unimpressed with the third volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Black Dossier, which seemed mostly like in-joke wankery and had an utterly lame ending. And it got mixed reviews across the Web, as well. Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill are at it again, though, with the first of three volumes of a story called Century.

The Black Dossier took place in the 1950s, and this volume takes place in 1910, 21 years after the first League story, so to some extent we’re catching up with the League as it’s evolved in more-or-less continuous existence since the disastrous encounter with the Martians in volume two. The story mainly follows two threads: Mina Murray and Allan Quatermain‘s team’s quest to stop a wizard from bringing about the end of the world – a chase which leads them down a seemingly blind alley, although the reader knows there’s more going on than meets their eye. And Janni, the daughter of Captain Nemo, coming to England, and eventually taking up the mantle as his successor. In the mix is a series of dockside murders which swirl around Janni’s story and are told partly in song (more allusions to fictional figures of the time, naturally), although it kind of splutters out at the end.

I think it’ll be hard for LoEG to ever recapture the sense of fun and excitement it had in its first volume, mainly because in that one Moore hit the nail squarely on the head with a collection of well-known, yet exotic, characters, and a nifty little puzzle for them and the readers to figure out. In later volumes, the lead characters have gotten more and more obscure, and that’s made elements of the series less interesting to people who don’t want to go to great lengths to figure out who these people are, or who don’t have any particular interest in the characters. (In other words, Carnacki, Raffles and Orlando don’t have quite the cachet of Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo and the Invisible Man) Century: 1910 has the additional problem that it’s just the first part of a three-part story, so it sets up both an over-arching threat, and what will presumably be a significant new character (Nemo’s daughter), but ultimately it’s all set-up. But with the last two chapters taking place in 1969 and 2009, I wonder what it’s going to be set-up for Certainly if Janni and the wizard aren’t major components, it will really diminsh the impact of this volume.

Overall, the story so far works much better than almost all of The Black Dossier did, with more little details that are interesting in and of themselves (such as “the prisoner of London”, which obviously will be showing up again). Also, Kevin O’Neill outdoes himself on the artwork, his characters having more fluidity and a wider variety of facial expressions than he’s employed in the past. While I’ve always appreciated O’Neill’s art for what it was, it’s great to see him evolving it.

I’m hopeful that Century will be a good, solid story when it’s all told. The first volume is encouraging, and I look forward to the rest of it.

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.