Despite having Thanksgiving week off, I never did an entry for that week, so here’s the catch-up:
- Action Comics #895, by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods (DC)
- Batman Beyond #6 of 6, by Adam Beechen, Ryan Benjamin & John Stanisci (DC)
- Justice Society of America #45, by Marc Guggenheim & Scott Kolins (DC)
- Madame Xanadu #29, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder & Richard Friend (DC/Vertigo)
- Captain America #612, by Ed Brubaker & Butch Guice (Marvel)
- Fantastic Four #585, by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting (Marvel)
- Chip: Second Crack #2 of 3, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
- Incorruptible #12, by Mark Waid & Marcio Takara (Boom)
- Action Comics Annual #12, by Paul Cornell, Marco Rudy & Ed Benes (DC)
- American Vampire #9, by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque & Mateus Santolouco (DC/Vertigo)
- Fables: Witches TPB, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, David Lapham, Andrew Pepoy, Jim Fern & Craig Hamilton (DC/Vertigo)
- Secret Six #28, by Gail Simone & Jim Calafiore (DC)
- Irredeemable #20, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
- RASL #9, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)
- The Boys #49, by Garth Ennis & Russ Braun (Dynamite)
The Batman Beyond mini-series has been fairly clever and entertaining, sitting sort of in-between the kids books that DC publishes based on its animated properties, and the more serious mainstream fare. This one attempts to bridge the two continuities – comic book Batman and animated Batman Beyond – and does a pretty good job. I’m not really a fan of Ryan Benjamin’s artwork, which also tries to bridge the styles between the two continuities and I thought just looks kind of weird, the characters not having much emotional range beyond a grimace or a scowl. But it’s okay.
The series has apparently been successful enough to warrant a new ongoing series, but while this was a cute little series I didn’t enjoy it enough to want to jump on-board for a longer-term commitment. One of the problems with Batman Beyond was that it never managed to establish itself as a series with a purpose; the best episodes tended to be ones revolving around Bruce Wayne’s past, and while Terry McGinnis – the Batman of the future – is an enjoyable character, he’s not strong enough to carry the series himself. I just don’t see that an ongoing series will provide a satisfying payoff, especially given that the mini-series was fairly light and by-the-numbers.
In the “light entertainment” department, this is a pretty good series and the ongoing series may be just as good. But for me, I think I get the idea and that’s enough.
Madame Xanadu comes to a close with this issue, with Amy Reeder (formerly Amy Reeder Hadley) coming back for the denouement.
The series has been erratic, starting with Madame Xanadu’s origins in the days of King Arthur (who is revealed as being Nimue, who in DC continuity is the woman responsible – tragically, in this instance – for imprisoning Merlin prior to the fall of Camelot, and also Morgan Le Fey’s sister), and progressing up through the 1960s. So it’s basically been a big retrospective, since the character is well-established (albeit as a mysterious individual without any personality) in present-day continuity.
The series has been an extended story of Xanadu’s maturity, starting as a credulous girl who encounters the Phantom Stranger, meeting him again through the centuries to her frequent regret (it’s also implied that the Stranger is living his life backwards through time, and interesting nugget which isn’t really explored), and also manipulated by her sister, but who gradually gains maturity, wisdom and knowledge to become a powerful sorceress. She’s certainly a more interesting character here than she’s ever been before.
Yet the series never really gelled for me, as it frequently wandered away from its main story arc, and seemed to lack focus. I think Wagner was enjoying playing around in the corners of the DC Universe, in much the way Neil Gaiman did in Sandman, but I don’t think he was nearly as effective in doing so; he doesn’t have the same touch for the fabulous that Gaiman does. I often find Wagner’s writing to be rather distant, more interesting for the complex and subtle mechanics of his plots and less for his characters, who tend to be rather flat (I love both Grendel and Mage, but neither is really memorable for its characters). Madame Xanadu is one of his stronger characters, but he seems to struggle with how to develop her in a satisfying manner, especially since the stories have been so low-key in nature. Seen in hindsight it’s clearer how he was building the character, but the emotional impact was often muted. The most effective issue on that score was a 1950s housewife who finds her body being creepily transformed, but I didn’t think the follow-up (after our heroine dealt with the problem) provided a satisfying resolution for the character; Wagner follows up on her here, but her story, although it has a happy outcome, is seen from a distance and doesn’t feel very rewarding for the reader.
Amy Reeder’s artwork has been the real strength of the series, channeling a bit of Charles Vess in her designs and layouts, and delivering most of the emotional impact the series did have. I sometimes wished she had an inker who would soften her lines, someone like Joe Rubenstein or even Tom Palmer, but certainly she’s quite a find and I hope she gets more work in the future.
Overall, though, Madame Xanadu has been a bit disappointing; I suspect DC hoped it would build a following more in line with Sandman or Starman, but it was never really that kind of book. Really it was just the sort of book that would slip under the radar in today’s market, and it didn’t have any developments or twists that made me want to tell people that they must read this book. 28 issues is a good run for a low-profile book like this, but it feels like Wagner should somehow have gone for the splashier storyline so it could be more high profile. In that way, the series feels like a missed opportunity.
Richard Moore’s plan seems to be to corner the “cute, sexy, and a little scary” comic book market. He did a great job on this in his regular comic Boneyard, which he wrapped up a while back since I guess it wasn’t making much money. Now he’s been doing a number of little side projects for Antarctic Press, one of which is Chip. This comic features a 4-inch gargoyle who is determined to show he can be just as scary as his brethren, with the help of his pixie friend Ash. He’s not very successful, though. Second Crack is his second series, in which Chip and Ash are trying to capture the Jersey Devil.
The thing is, Moore’s gone way too far into the “cute” realm for my tastes, and Chip is a pretty slight book in both plot and characters. His writing style works better when he can develop things over a period of time as in Boneyard, or his more serious wild west fantasy Far West. Moore has a pretty wry sense of humor, but the jokes here seem cheap.
Heck, I somehow missed the first issue of this series, and I don’t feel like I missed very much. Hopefully he’ll have the time to do something more ambitious sometime soon.
I think I’m running out of gas on Gail Simone’s Secret Six. Part of it is that Jim Calafiore has replaced Nicola Scott as the regular artist, and he seems like the go-to guy for second-tier series who need a reliable artist: But while he’s reliable, his figures are too stiff and generic for my tastes. I had the same problem when he was drawing Marvel’s Exiles series.
But part of it is that the series has been floundering around, losing its focus, that being a group of mercenaries with extreme personalities who have trouble getting along. The team broke up and splintered into two factions, both of whom ended up in the underground primeval world of Skartaris, fighting each other and the locals, a story which wraps up in this issue. I wasn’t quite clear what they were supposed to be doing there – I think one group was being manipulated by a rogue element inside the US government, while the other was sent by Amanda Waller, but no one seemed to be keeping their eyes on the prize, whatever it was. It seemed like an excuse to have the protagonists beat up on one another.
The series has been at its best when it puts its characters – who have questionable morals – in situations which challenge both their well-being and what sense of right and wrong they have. But such stories usually require a pretty strong focus, especially with a large-and-growing cast of characters as exists here, particularly when the characters are a group of anti-heroes at best, and the reader won’t always relate to them. Throwing in an exotic land and a confusing mission as this story featured throws off the balance of the story and makes it difficult to figure out what the story is trying to accomplish.
Series about villains are difficult to keep going, especially characters who aren’t ones who naturally tend to work together, and Secret Six is probably the most successful such comic in history (Suicide Squad, remember, was anchored by several clear-cut heroes; Secret Six is more like trying to write a series about The Joker or Lex Luthor). But it feels like it’s spiraling out of control.