This Week’s Haul

  • Fables: The Good Prince vol 10 TPB, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Aaron Alexovich & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice Society of America #16, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Fernando Pasarin & Rebecca Buchman (DC)
  • Tom Strong vol 6 TPB, by Alan Moore, Chris Sprouse, Michael Moorcock, Jerry Ordway, Joe Casey, Ben Oliver, Steve Moore, Paul Gulacy, Jimmy Palmiotti, Peter Hogan & Karl Story (DC/America’s Best)
  • Avengers/Invaders #2 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Steve Sadowski (Marvel)
  • Nova #14, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • The Boys #19, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Star Trek: Assignment Earth #2 of 12, by John Byrne (IDW)
Tom Strong vol 6 Tom Strong was one of the flagship titles of Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics imprint. It was basically a mash-up of Doc Savage and other adventure heroes, with Tom having been born in the late 19th century, come of age in a high-pressure chamber which made him immensely strong, and lived for over a century thanks to a rare herb from the island on which he grew up. He became the protector of Millennium City and the adversary of the villainous Paul Saveen. It’s far from Moore’s best stuff, but it was often quite entertaining, and was amply supported by terrific art by the too-rarely-seen Chris Sprouse.

The sixth trade paperback collection completes the set, but the series really limped to a halt (mainly because I think Moore cut back on his work once the imprint was bought by DC Comics). This volume includes a lavishly-illustrated but trivial pirate story by Michael Moorcock and Jerry Ordway, and a few episodes which tie up some loose ends for some of the characters. This culminates in the final issue, in which everything gets tied up by Moore in a close encounter with the afterlife courtesy of one of the other ABC characters, Promethea.

So the volume practically screams “for completists only”, and in a way that’s what Tom Strong was on the whole: If you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing that you’ll like. It was less ambitious than either Promethea or Top 10, and never really went anywhere. Just Moore playing around, really. There’s some very good stuff in the series, but more than anything else in the ABC line-up, it seemed to underscore that Moore has long since peaked as a writer and is pretty firmly on the back end of his career at this point.

Star Trek: Assignment: Earth #2.jpg This month’s Assignment: Earth is simply a “shadow history” taking place within the Star Trek episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday”, which takes place two years after “Assignment: Earth” to Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln, but before that episode to the crew of the Enterprise. It’s a cute idea, albeit not very original, but unfortunately it doesn’t reveal anything about the main characters, or anything about the TV episode, since Kirk and company pretty much covered all their bases at the time. So unfortunately there turned out to be no point except to play around with story structure. I’d rather have had a brand new story which moved the characters of Seven and Roberta forward; this issue felt like empty calories.

(Oh, and the scene on the cover never appears in the issue, which makes it feel like a bait-and-switch!)

Comics I Didn’t Buy This Week:

  • Manhunter #31, by Marc Andreyko & Michael Gaydos (DC)
  • Trinity #1 of 52, by Kurt Busiek, Mark Bagley & Art Thibert (DC)
Manhunter #31 Having read and enjoyed the trade paperback collections of the first 30 issues of Manhunter, I’d sort of assumed that I’d keep buying the regular series when it “relaunched” this year with #31. However, that was before I learned that the artist would be Michael Gaydos, who had drawn Alias over at Marvel. His dark renderings, unexpressive and often indistinct faces and generally gloomy approach made that book a real chore to read, and I bailed on the series after the first arc, mainly for that reason. Thumbing through Manhunter #31 it doesn’t look like his art’s changed much. Although I’d like to support the book, I just really don’t like the artwork, so I passed on it.
Trinity #1 Trinity is DC’s new weekly title, following on the heels of 52 and Countdown to Final Crisis. This one, though, seems unrelated to any corporate events, and is written by the reliable Kurt Busiek. Nonetheless, I decided not to pick it up. Partly I feel too burned by Countdown, but mainly I’m just not that interested in a book about DC’s “big three”, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. I find Superman occasionally interesting, but Batman has rarely interested me since The Dark Knight Returns turned him down the road of being a psychopath, and Wonder Woman rarely interests me. So instead I’ll wait ’til Busiek gets to the next arc of Astro City to get my fix of his writing.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 30 January 2008.

  • Action Comics #861, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #13 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Countdown to Adventure #6 of 8, by Adam Beechen, Allan Goldman & Julio Ferreira, and Justin Gray, Fabrizio Fiorentino & Adam Dekraker (DC)
  • The Death of the New Gods #5 of 8, by Jim Starlin, Matt Banning & Art Thibert (DC)
  • Manhunter: Unleashed vol 4 TPB, by Marc Andreyko, Javier Pina, Fernando Blanco, Brad Walker & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Fantastic Four #553, by Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Project Superpowers #0 of 6, by Alex, Ross, Jim Krueger, Doug Klauba & Stephen Sadowski (Dynamite)
Manhunter vol 4 Unleashed Unleashed is the final of four collections of Marc Andreyko’s Manhunter, about a prosecutor who becomes a superhero who’s willing to kill the villains who escape the legal system. The series was acclaimed for its strong female hero who also had realistic flaws, such as being a chain smoker and divorced. But it didn’t sell very well and was cancelled. Fan outcry led to it being un-cancelled for a few more issues, which are collected here, but as of this writing it looks like its day really is over.

The main story in this volume involves Wonder Woman hiring Kate Spencer – Manhunter’s civilian identity – to defend her in a grand jury trial regarding her killing of Maxwell Lord. The motivation behind the killing is part of the ongoing brouhaha surrounding DC continually trying to reinvent itself this decade, and I won’t go into the details here. Fortunately, I don’t need to, since the story is nicely self-contained, and used as a vehicle for Manhunter to gain a better understanding of her place in the superhero community. The “B” story is about Manhunter’s friend and ally Cameron Chase dealing with an old enemy of her father’s kidnapping her sister, which is also fun.

The book definitely hit its stride in the third and fourth volumes, having seemed rather disjointed and heavy-handed in the first. I still wouldn’t characterize it as more than average superheroics, albeit with a little more reality injected into the story (Kate’s bad at keeping her identity a secret, and gets the stuffing beat out of her in some of the fights, for instance). Still, average has plenty of value and I’d probably read it if a new series came out. Which it could, since there are all sorts of loose threads at the end of this volume. But I’m doubtful that DC will give it another shot.

Project Superpowers #0 It seems like everyone wants to bring back a team of obscure heroes from yesteryear and put them in a modern context. J. Michael Straczynski’s doing The Twelve over at Marvel, and now Alex Ross is working the same angle, this time using many of the Nedor Comics characters that Alan Moore did in his Terra Obscura series of a few years back, as well as the original Daredevil.

The premise begins with the notion that Pandora’s Box was responsible for releasing both the evil of the Nazis in World War II, and the many superheroes who sprang up to fight it. One hero, the Fighting Yank, is charged with returning all the heroes to the box in the hopes that the evil with follow. Decades later, in the present day, he learns that he was apparently tricked, which I presume sets the stage for the release of the heroes from the box into the present day.

Like Straczynski’s comics, I’ve been disappointed with Ross’ books since Kingdom Come, mainly because of his stories’ tendencies to have very “uncompressed” storytelling – i.e., they’re slow-moving. And the payoff often doesn’t seem to live up to the grandiose set-up. While Ross’ art is always lovely, he often leaves the art chores to others. Project Superpowers leaves the art to Stephen Sadowski who’s got the skills to pull this off, but the textured feel of his pencils – which appear not to have been inked – and the bizarre coloring job which leaves every character with some peculiar highlights seem to undercut the four-color feel of the characters.

The story’s okay, with the feel of a tragedy unfolding in slow motion as the Fighting Yank essentially betrays his friends. But this issue’s just the prologue – presumably once the heroes are released the real story starts. The question is: What will it be, and will it be worth it?

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 29 August 2007.

  • Countdown #35 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Keith Giffen, Manuel Garcia & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Ex Machina Masquerade Special by Brian K. Vaughan & John Paul Leon (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Manhunter: Origins TPB vol 3, by Marc Andreyko, Javier Pina & Fernando Blanco (DC)
  • Hellboy: Darkness Calls # 5 of 6, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)

I think Greg Burgas nails it in his review of the Ex Machina special: It’s not a story of any great consequence, and the sentiment driving the plot doesn’t ring true. Plus, I’ve never warmed to John Paul Leon’s pencils, as the renderings aren’t to my taste, and his layouts never seem to really tell the story, they just sit there. The earlier 2-part special, drawn by Chris Sprouse, was much better than this one in every way.

(And why did a Halloween comic come out in late August? Especially strange since we’re in the middle of a brutal heat wave here on the west coast.)

Manhunter: Origins TPB vol 3Manhunter really hits its stride with this third collection, which focuses on Kate Spencer’s “origins”, both her gear and her personal history. She also continues to battle the dregs of the DC Universe’s array of supervillains (wow, I’d completely forgotten about Punch and Jewelee). I suspect the reason it’s been struggling to gain readers is that it has taken so long to hit its stride; the first twelve issues (that’s a whole year of issues, folks) thrashed around like the series was trying to establish itself rather than trying to finds its voice, which is rather putting the cart before the horse.

Anyway, this series of federal-prosecutor-turned-vigilante stays down-to-Earth, while being strangely conflicted: It deals with some intensely personal issues, yet always seems to keep the characters’ emotions at arm’s length, always being a little too matter-of-fact for its character bits. That we only get brief glimpses of most of the supporting cast doesn’t help. The adventure bits are a lot of fun, though, and present an unusually unglamorous view of superheroing – reasonably enough, since Manhunter is truly a vigilante and not a traditional hero.

Manhunter has been a fan favorite on the Internet for a while. I don’t think it lives up to the hype, but if it truly comes back from its current hiatus then I’ll probably add the monthly book to my saver at my local store.

And now, a slightly different tack: Comments on books I didn’t buy:

I thumbed through the first issue of the new Brit series. Brit is another of Robert (Invincible) Kirkman’s Image Comics heroes: A middle-aged man who’s completely invulnerable and decidedly sardonic, who works for the government. I picked up the collection of the earlier stories, Old Soldier a while back: The stories are basically big “smash-’em-up” ones, which means they’re okay, but not deep. A nice occasional diversion, but not something that holds up over time. This new series I guess is supposed to be somewhat deeper, but the first issue looked like more of the same. Brit isn’t as appealing a lead character as Invincible, so I decided to pass on this one. (Often I decide not to buy a series which is going through a revival because, as I put it, “I’ve been on that train before and I don’t really want to get on again.”)

I also glanced at The Mice Templar #1, from Michael Avon Oeming, whose art on Powers is quite good, but I’ve never warmed to anything else he’s done. The art here actually made me cringe (take a look), so I took a pass on this one. I’m already reading Mouse Guard, and I think it’ll fill my need for rodent adventure stories on its own.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 10 January 2007.

Okay, at this point this is last week’s haul, but I’ve been a little busy!

I think Graeme McMillan’s review of JSA #2 (scroll down a bit on the other side of the link to find it) says everything I could say about it, and more succinctly.

I’m only halfway through the second Manhunter volume, which is (or at least starts with) one extended story. It’s pretty good, better than the first volume. The characterization is still not too deep, but the book as a whole is feeling more fully-realized.

I mentioned Jack Staff last week in connection with Paul Grist’s other series, Kane. Thumbing through this one again, I notice just how disconnected so much of the story is: Threads which seem barely connected, extremely nonlinear storytelling, etc. While I enjoy Grist’s sense of humor, I wish he could streamline his storytelling somewhat. Characterization really suffers, and it becomes difficult to care about all the little plot threads.

I think the fundamental problem with Jack Staff, though, is that its lead character is a World War II superhero (who resembles Marvel’s Union Jack). He’s very long-lived, his secret identity is a general contractor, and his motives and personality are really basically unknown. I keep expecting all of this backstory to go somewhere, but it never really does. I think that’s what makes Kane the better series: Despite being similarly disjointed, Kane is haunted by his past, and it colors everything he does in the present, and therefore despite all the side issues, it works as a portrait of a man trying to overcome the demons of his past (made all the harder by the fact that he feels his actions were justified, even if others don’t). Jack Staff is just this quirky enigma of a superhero.

Either that or I’m really missing something. (If it’s just supposed to be a loving tribute to some old British comic book characters then, well, shrug.)

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 4 January 2007.

And this week it really was a haul:

Manhunter is an acclaimed ongoing series about a Los Angeles lawyer who gets tired of super-villains going free for various reasons, and decides to take the law into her own hands by lifting some superpowered gadgets she has access to and playing vigilante by night. While it’s “acclaimed”, it hasn’t sold very well, and was nearly cancelled last year, but reader outcry caused DC to revive it. This kerfuffle was enough to make me decide to try it out, and my shop got a copy of the first collected volume this week, since the second volume, Trial By Fire, just came out.

It’s okay, but not great. Penciller Jesus Saiz does a fine job drawing both Kate Spencer’s everyday life and her extracurricular adventuring. Writer Marc Andreyko’s scripts, though, are rather haphazard: Kate’s broken family life hits us over the head. The source of her weapons is shown to subtly that it’s hard to believe (why didn’t anyone know the stuff was missing and put two and two together?). For the book’s supposed realism, chain-smoking lawyer Kate is surprisingly athletic and skilled in combat. And Kate is certainly not a likeable protagonist. (In fact, everyone in the book is rather unlikeable.)

And yet, despite these rough edges, I can see the attraction of the book, that it might develop into something with more depth and texture, and that this volume is merely the set-up for more interesting stories down the road. I’ll check out the second volume and let you know what I think.

This is the first issue of All-Star Superman to come out since I started this journal. To the extent that the series has a premise, it concerns Superman before he was rebooted in the 1980s, finding out that his cells have been overloaded by sunlight and that he’s going to die sometime soon. So writer Grant Morrison gets to put the classic incarnation of Superman in some unusual situations as a result. Each issue only advances the story a little bit, though, and it reads more like a set of standalone stories. This issue sees several of Superman’s descendents coming back to the beginning of his career to meet him and fight a time-eating Chronovore who arrives in Smallville.

I’ve never been a big fan of writer Grant Morrison: I think he’s a great idea man, but his characterizations border on nil and his dialogue often feels stilted and ridiculous. I think he’s basically the same writer he was when he broke into American comics back in the 1980s, and frankly I have never really seen what all the hubbub is about. Honestly, I think his best work was his run on JLA a decade ago. All-Star Superman is largely more of the same: Inventive. Loud. Emotionally void.

I’ve never been a big fan of Quitely’s art, either. Mainly I feel that most of his characters’ faces look the same, and often they look downright inhuman. His renderings of Lana Lang and Pete Ross here are completely unrecognizable and kind of grotesque. He also seems to skimp on the backgrounds, which is really clear in this issue, which takes place in Kansas. His basic antatomy is quite strong, but while anatomy is a necessary element of a good artist, it’s not sufficient.

I keep trying out Morrison’s comics because he’s a great idea man, but All-Star Superman is not one of his better outings. Of course, neither was Seven Soldiers. And both of these opinions seem to put me in the minority of comics bloggers.

newuniversal #2 shows us that the original New Universe series was actually in-continuity, and it does so in that very Warren Ellis-esque way. Kinda neat.

If you’re a fan of medieval fantasy, give Artesia a look. I’m not a fan of the subgenre, and I enjoy it: Artesia begins as a concubine for a king in a remote hills country, but for various reasons she overthrows her king and siezes power for herself, and then gets caught up in a major invasion of her land by armies from the south. It’s at its best when it’s dealing with the characters of Artesia and her supporting cast. Writer/artist Mark Smylie has a tendency to introduce way too many characters at times, and focus more on Artesia’s position as a character of destiny and less on her as an actual character, so motivations and feelings tend to get lost in the shuffle. The series is uneven. Smylie’s a terrific artist, though, especially in his figure designs and ability to draw large battle scenes, which are often stunning.

I really need to sit down and read the whole thing at once to reacquaint myself with all of the details and see if I appreciate it more.

These two volumes are new hardcover collections of the first two mini-series. They look like nice packages, although the first volume has a big, yellow “Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award Winner” badge on the front cover, marring the artwork. They couldn’t have put this on the back cover, or used a removable sticker? Sheesh!

Kane is a noirish police series by Paul Grist. Grist published 30+ issues of the black-and-white series in the 90s, and then put it on hold to work on Jack Staff. Grist has a simple but capable style with strong use of light and shadow and interesting panel layouts. I can imagine it wouldn’t work for everyone, but it works for me. His writing has the signature note of playing with time perception, leaping between events that take place at widely different points in time (and sometimes in dream) without warning. When it works – as when Kane is flashing back to confronting his on-the-take partner – it’s very cool. Grist vastly overuses the stunt, though, which has made Jack Staff nearly unreadable at times. Kane is still pretty nifty, though, mainly because the characters are all playing different games with different motivations, and that transcends the sometimes-awkward storytelling. (Grist has a nice, warped sense of humor, too.)

If you’re a fan of character-driven police shows such as Homicide (as opposed to today’s never-ending crop of procedurals), then give Kane a try. Start with the first volume, Greetings From New Eden.

Finally (whew!), Richard Moore’s Boneyard is another series on an irregular schedule, although supposedly Moore has had some (as he puts it) setbacks recently which have slowed down his production of the series. This is a very fun comic, and it’s one of the few that Debbi reads. Our hero, Michael Paris, inherits a plot of rural land which happens to hold a graveyard. An, uh, inhabited graveyard. The series is mostly about Paris’ relationships with the inhabitants of the graveyard, especially the vampire, Abbey, to whom he is attracted (and it’s reciprocated). The gang has a few supernatural adversaries who pop up from time to time as well.

It’s fun, and has been collected by NBM in several volumes. Annoyingly, we seem to have the choice between full-size black-and-white volumes, or small-size color volumes. I go with the B&W volumes. If they ever produce full-sized color volumes, I’ll switch to those.

(Can you tell that it bugs the heck out of me when creators or publishers make unfortunate decisions about the format of an otherwise-handsome collection? All I can do is vote with my pocketbook, or complain about it here, so that’s what I do.)

Whew. And with that, it’s time to collapse.