This Week’s Haul

  • Justice Society of America Annual #1, by Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • newuniversal: 1959 #1, by Kieron Gillen, Greg Scott & Kody Chamberlain (Marvel)
  • Thor #10, by J. Michael Straczynski, Oliver Coipel & Mark Morales (Marvel)
  • Girl Genius: Voice of the Castle vol 7 HC, by Phil Foglio & Kaja Foglio (Airship)
  • Project Superpowers #5 of 7, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Carlos Paul (Dynamite)
  • Locke & Key #6 of 6, by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
Justice Society of America Annual #1 Justice Society of America Annual #1 is just a big tease.

In the currently convoluted DC continuity, Power Girl comes from an alternate Earth, the “Earth-2” from before Crisis on Infinite Earths. In this issue, wonderfully illustrated by Jerry Ordway (one of my favorite artists), she’s been returned there by the powers of Gog (the main plot element in the ongoing series), and she catches up with the Huntress and the rest of the Earth-2 Justice Society, who have continued to live their lives since the first Crisis. The Huntress is dealing with the last few villains of her father – the deceased Earth-2 Batman – and the JSA has undergone some significant changes, with most of the original members having retired. It’s good stuff, with convincing characterizations, and some effective revelations about these old friends. It doesn’t really deal with the fact that the characters here would be pretty old by now – the members of Infinity Inc. would be in their mid-to-late 40s, and Robin would be pushing 70 – but I’m willing to chalk that up to artistic license.

The books real problem is that it’s just a lead-in to another plot thread in the ongoing series, in which Power Girl finds herself on the run in a world that might be what it seems – but might not. So it’s not a complete story, which is especially frustrating given the tradition of annuals to be complete or to be the climactic wrap-up of a longer story. It’s just another cog, and it left me feeling cheated.

The art sure is lovely, though. Ordway’s best stuff in years.

newuniversal: 1959 one-shot newuniversal: 1959 is a prequel to Warren Ellis’ newuniversal series, highlighting a few extraordinary individuals in the late 50s and the arm of the government which investigates them. It’s a pretty good story, although it basically just fills in the details of what’s been described in the regular series. So it’s not essential reading, but I enjoyed it anyway.
Girl Genius vol 7: Voice of the Castle HC Girl Genius is still one of the most entertaining comics going, and I’m happy that it’s had so much success as a webcomic, since it looks like it’ll be sticking around for a long time. Meanwhile the family Foglio are still collecting the series more-or-less annually in both paperback and hardcover, and I sure hope that that continues, as I’ve been happily snapping up almost everything Phil Foglio’s done as they print it in hardcover.

I was somewhat disappointed in volume 6 since it turned away from Agatha, the main character, and had a convoluted story which didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Volume 7 is a return to form, as Agatha and her allies arrive in Mechanicsburg so Agatha can claim her position as the heir to the Heterodynes. Of course, the badly-injured Baron Klaus Wulfenbach and his son Gil have gotten there ahead of her. Moreover, claiming her heritage is harder than it seems, since she needs to be recognized by the sentient Castle Heterodyne, but the castle isn’t intact and people who enter it tend not to come out again. Plus, another claimant to the position has turned up and entered the castle with her own schemes. Finally, word of Klaus’ injuries have gotten out, which means people who want to overthrow or supplant him are showing up heavily armed.

The book is full of action, adventure, and rampant silliness, all of which you expect from a Foglio story. There are also some nifty glimpses of the Heterodyne past – I love poring over the pages in the vaults below the castle to see what jokes and suggestions the Foglios have thrown in there, whether or not it directly impacts the story. Plus Agatha’s chat with one fragment of the castle is not to be missed, and Gil has his own test in trying to protect his father.

Perhaps Girl Genius‘ pace has slowed down a bit too much with the shift to webcomic form, as it often seems like things move along a bit slowly, with this volume ending on a cliffhanger. A paradigm shift in the series is going to occur sooner or later since Agatha is going to have to grow up completely and become a major player on the continental stage in the fictional world in which she lives, and I wonder whether the Foglios are finding it difficult to get past Agatha as the still-somewhat-innocent foil for her more experienced companions. Maybe that’s what’s holding the story back a bit. Or, maybe they just want more scenes like Agatha building an industrial-strength coffee maker (which are cute, but just intermissions between “the good stuff”). Nonetheless, this is great stuff. I read it on-line every week, and you should too.

Locke & Key #6 Locke & Key finishes its first mini-series this month. It’s been pretty good, but also disappointing: It ended up being little more than a straightforward “being stalked by a lunatic with a gun” story. To be fair, it does set up the premise of the series, but I’d hoped for a lot of sense of wonder and a lot less routine suspense and horror schtick. The ending suggests that future series will be a little more fantastic, and I hope they will be. I’ll come back for the next mini-series (starting later this year), but if it’s more of the same then that might be enough for me.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #10, by Mark Waid, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #10 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Keith Giffen & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • The Death of the New Gods #6 of 8, by Jim Starlin & Art Thibert (DC)
  • Ex Machina #34, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Hulk #2, by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines (Marvel)
  • Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men vol 90 HC, collecting The Uncanny X-Men #142-150, by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, Brent Anderson, Dave Cockrum, Josef Rubenstein & Bob Wiacek (Marvel)
  • The Umbrella Academy #6 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
  • Locke & Key #1, by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
  • Invincible #48, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Perhapanauts Annual #1, by Todd DeZago & Craig Rousseau (Image)
The Umbrella Academy #6 I was pretty enthusiastic about The Umbrella Academy after reading the first issue: The premise is that a group of 7 children were born with super-powers, and raised by their rather unpleasant mentor, Sir Reginald Hargreeves, in a weird version of the early 20th century. The first issue treated us to the children as ten-year-olds saving Paris from Zombie-Robot Gustav Eiffel and his tower, and showed us how disfunctional Hargreeves’ “family” was, largely due to his shortcomings as an adoptive father. 20 years later, the family had drifted apart, and its most prominent member, Spaceboy, lived on the moon. But the group was reunited by Hargreeves’ funeral, along with the return of one of their members – Five – who had disappeared years before.

Although essentially a horror-oriented variation of the original X-Men, this was a fine start to the series, but it went downhill from there. The interplay among the characters was easily the series’ high point, but the its plot was a muddle: One of the Academy, Vanya, who has no super-powers but is a violinist, is recruited by the Orchestra Verdammten to help bring about the end of the world, which she’s (sort of) happy to do since she’s an outcast from her family and feels marginalized by the world. Along the way the Academy faces a loud-but-pointless battle against some robots called the Terminauts in issue #3, and a lot of waiting around in issues #4 and 5, until the big confrontation with Vanya and her Orchestra in #6.

I understand The Umbrella Academy is intended to be a lengthy series of mini-series along the lines of Mike Mignola’s B.P.R.D. (probably no coincidence, as both books are published by Dark Horse). However this first mini-series – subtitled “The Apocalypse Suite” – was a big letdown in its conclusion. There’s basically no emotional payoff, as the issues the heroes have with their stepfather are largely unexplored and certainly not resolved, and their relationships with each other remain undeveloped. The motivations of the Orchestra are – to put it mildly – thin, which undercuts the story’s reason for being; indeed, the whole apocalypse suite angle seems awkwardly tacked on to the larger story of Five’s return, the group’s reuniting, and Hargreeves’ motivations and death. In short, everything that was interesting about the set-up is roughly shoved aside to serve this fairly clunky end-of-the-world threat.

This series is getting some rave reviews on the web. For instance, Greg Burgas at Comics Must Be Good: “This is one of the best mini-series you’re going to read in a long time”. Chris Sims in his Invincible Super-Blog: “I’ve gotta say, now that it’s all said and done, this has easily been one of the best comics of the year.” And Bryan Joel at IGN: “Umbrella Academy has been nothing short of brilliant for nearly its entire run.”

All of which of course makes me think: Whuh? I mean, hah?

These reactions made more sense to me once I read Valerie D’Orazio’s review in Occasional Superheroine, in which she compares The Umbrella Academy to Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol of a couple of decades ago: “Way’s been very up front in interviews about his love of Grant Morrison, and while the influence of comic’s own pop magician is felt throughout, it’s just that – influence. Umbrella Academy avoids the lazy trap of trying to lift Morrison’s shtick wholesale that has claimed so many would-be talents, instead showing a real understanding of the blend of great character moments and cool, understated responses to absurdity that made books like Doom Patrol work so well in the first place.” The comparison between the books is quite apt, and perhaps indicates why I was disappointed in the series: I thought that Morrison’s Doom Patrol started off with 6 pretty good issues, and then descended into an utter mess of frenetic idea-driven yarns with characterization close to nil (even calling the characters “cardboard” is being charitable) and plot not a whole lot better. Other than those first few issues, it was pretty forgettable stuff, because there just wasn’t much story there. Morrison’s earlier Animal Man was better, and his later JLA was much better, in both cases because the ideas turned into solid stories, rather than just remaining simple products of the ideas factory that is Morrison’s mind.

The Umbrella Academy is similar to Doom Patrol in this way: A torrent of ideas illustrated by a highly capable artist (Gabriel Bá’s art is terrific; occasionally a little cartoony for my tastes, but he nonetheless can handle anything Way can throw at him, as well as a wide variety of character designs and expressions), but with a story that doesn’t make much sense, and which seems to be actively obstructed by the various nifty things being presented.

Of the reviews I’ve read, I think I agreed most with Joe McCulloch’s review in the Savage Critics: “While the book is neat enough that I’m happy to read it, I don’t pick up on anything all that striking. It’s nice, and pretty eloquent, but I don’t think it’s especially interesting.”

The next series is going to have to actually build on the premise the first two issues of this series laid out, or else The Umbrella Academy is going to end up going the route of B.P.R.D. of always teasing, but never delivering on its promise, with the story crawling forward at a snail’s pace. And that won’t keep me around for long, since I’m already just about done with B.P.R.D..

Locke & Key #1 Locke & Key has been getting a fair bit of hype in the press, perhaps because writer Joe Hill is a successful novelist (and also the son of Stephen King). I hadn’t heard of it before this first issue came out, but I thumbed through it in the store and decided to give it a try, mainly because of the artwork of Gabriel Rodriguez, whose clean linework I appreciated, and whose figures seemed pretty expressive.

It’s a horror series, with this first issue showing (in flashback) the murderous tragedy that befell the Locke family in which the father was kiled, which led them to move to a gothic mansion in the peninsular town of Lovecraft, Massachusetts. These last two overused trappings aside, the premise sounds pretty interesting: The three children of the Locke family find that going through doors in the house can can also transform them in different ways, and that the series’ antagonist wants to use the house for his (or its) own ends (Hill describes the premise in more depth here). But the premise is barely even scratched here – this first issue is all set-up for what sends the characters to the house.

So it’s a bit of a thin issue – unless you enjoy a straight-up short horror story for its own sake – but I’m hopeful that it will deliver on its promise. It seems worth a try.