This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 9 January 2008.

  • Countdown to Final Crisis #16 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Pete Woods, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Salvation Run #3 of 7, by Matthew Sturges, Sean Chen & Walden Wong (DC)
  • Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #5 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Hulk #1, by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines (Marvel)
  • Nova #10, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves, Wellington Diaz & Nelson Pereira (Marvel)
  • The Twelve #1 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Weston & Garry Leach (Marvel)
  • MythAdventures! HC, by Robert Asprin, Phil Foglio & Tim Sale (Airship)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1946, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart & Paul Azaceta (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #14, by Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson & Peter Snejbjerg (Dynamite)
Hulk #1 In the wake of World War Hulk, Marvel launched the fourth Hulk series with a new #1 issue. This time the series’ hook is that there’s a red Hulk, and the mystery is: Who is it? I thumbed through the book and liked Ed McGuinness’s artwork, and also the kicker that this Hulk apparently is using firearms, which is a little unusual for him. So I decided to pick it up.

But closer reading makes it a lot less impressive. First of all, Jeph Loeb’s characterization of Doc Samson and the She-Hulk feels fundamentally off, with both of them seeming to possess hair-trigger personalities and a general air of grumpiness, which doesn’t track with their earlier behavior. Second, it looks like the new Hulk is probably going to be the usual suspect (Rick Jones), which would not only be lame, but would be essentially a rehash of Peter David’s earliest Hulk stories, 20 years ago (!). Lastly, the heroes go to consult with someone who knows something about the Hulk – Bruce Banner, currently under tight lockup. This seems directly at odds with the end of World War Hulk when Banner seemed to be presumed dead or at least in a coma. Not that I expected him to be dead, but how did he get from there to here?

Overall the writing seems extremely sloppy, and the set-up doesn’t seem promising. The art is still nice – McGuinness has developed pretty nicely since his days on Superman/Batman – but this book will have to shape up in a hurry or I’ll likely be done with it by issue #4.

The Twelve #1 I’ve written before about my frustrations with J. Michael Straczynski’s comic books, but I keep buying them anyway, since they always sound interesting. It’s the execution where they fall flat.

The Twelve features 12 obscure heroes from the 1940s who were published by Timely Comics (which later evolved into modern-day Marvel Comics) but who have basically been forgotten (I’d never heard of any of them before now). The premise is that at the end of World War II, superheroes descended on Berlin to help finish off the Nazis, but a random group of 12 heroes were tricked and captured by the Nazis and put into suspended animation so they could be studied. However, the Nazis in question were themselves captured by the Russians and the heroes were forgotten – until a construction project in 2008 unearths them. Shipped back to the US, the government decides to reawaken them, and enlist them as government heroes, a proposal the heroes all accept at the end of the first issue (with the exception of Elektro, who was a nonsentient robot controlled remotely by his now-deceased creator and who therefore couldn’t vote). The first issue ends with a glimpse of the future in which it appears that one of the Twelve will kill another of the Twelve.

The premise is promising, and hopefully having a 12-issue limited series will help Straczynski avoid his achilles heel as a comics writer: He writes long, drawn-out story arcs in which nothing happens for a lengthy period of time (his current work on Thor has this problem in spades, as I’ve said in previous entries). Of course, having a 24-issue limited series didn’t stop his Rising Stars series from being terrible and mostly boring. And the end of this first issue is reminiscent of the first issue of that series, so that’s not very encouraging. But I have hope that this will be a solid and entertaining series, so unless it really goes into the tank early, I’m basically signing up for the whole thing, good or bad.

The series takes place in the Marvel universe, so the heroes have woken up in the wake of the Civil War, which may put an unfortunate spin on the story (since I hate almost everything associated with the Civil War). Few of the heroes have any substantial powers, either, and reportedly the point-of-view character will be the Phantom Detective, who is one of those unpowered heroes (he seems to be in the mold of DC’s Crimson Avenger or Sandman characters from the 40s). So I wonder how this series will tie into the rest of the Marvel universe. Captain America is currently dead, so he can’t come meet the heroes to give them the benefit of his experience, and Bucky (a.k.a. the Winter Soldier) has an unusual position among Marvel heroes and I would guess is also not likely to show up. So the heroes apparently will mainly be dealing with the government and the military, groups which Straczynski tends to view with deep cynicism (and a lot less subtlety than, for instance, Robert Kirkman does in Invincible. If Straczynski really wants to make this a good comic, he’ll portray the government less cynically than he usually does.

The story does have one apparent hole in it: The controller of Elektro lost contact with his robot just as the Nazis trapped the heroes, yet he should have known almost exactly where they were, and have been able to have told someone at the time. Did he? If he did, why weren’t they rescued? Did he not? If not, then why not? Explaining this will have to be one of the steps of the series or the whole thing will have a big hole in it.

Anyway, the story shows promise, but it’s the art by Chris Weston and Garry Leach (man, how long as it been since I first saw Leach’s art on Miracleman?) that really makes it worthwhile. I’ve been impressed with Weston’s art the few times I’ve seen it before (for example, in Ministry of Space), and it’s just as good here: Detailed, stylistic, and he has a real facility for drawing faces with distinctive appearances and diverse expressions, as well as making great use of blacks and of whitespace. His weakness is that his poses tend to be a bit stiff (one page of Captain Wonder in action late in this issue unfortunately really exposes this), but superhero comics have a lengthy history of stiff poses (not everyone can be John Buscema, after all), so I think the series can overcome this. (And heck, for all I know that’s the one page that Weston had to pencil under deadline pressure, so maybe it’s an anomaly.)

Despite my reservations, obviously I find The Twelve to have enough depth to be worthy of a lengthy review, so I’m actually looking forward to the rest of the series. If I carp a lot about Straczynski’s comics, it really is because I feel like he ought to be able to do so much better, and that his ideas are too good to be shortchanged by the plodding pace he often employs. So here’s hoping The Twelve is a big exception to the pattern.

MythAdventures HC It’s no secret that Phil Foglio is one of my favoritest comics artists, and his studio just reprinted one of his earliest works in a slick, high-quality hardcover edition. MythAdventures! adapts the first volume of Robert Asprin’s series of humorous novels of the same name. Skeeve is an apprentice to the wizard Garkin, but he’s not very good: He can levitate things and almost light a candle. But when Garkin tries to show Skeeve what wizardry is all about by summoning a demon, an assassin shows up and offs the wizard. The ‘demon’ turns out to be a dimensional traveller named Aahz, who apprentices Skeeve as they set out to avenge Garkin’s death.

That synopsis doesn’t come anywhere close to doing the book justice: This is Foglio at his riotous best, with slapstick humor, rampant wordplay, off-the-wall drawings, and action and adventure. When I read the first series in the 1980s, I don’t think I’d ever read a comic book that made me laugh so hard, and I still giggle when I read it today. That the book has so many silly, off-the-wall elements and yet still tells a coherent story is just amazing.

(The story in the comic book deviates significantly from the original novel, Another Fine Myth. I enjoyed Asprin’s original series quite a bit, but it took a few books for it to really hit its stride; I think the best volume is the fifth, Little Myth Marker. Foglio’s adaptation works within the original book’s basic framework, but he makes it more fully his own work with a very loose adaptation. Overall I think it’s a win, but don’t read one and expect the other to be much like it. They’re quite different.)

The hardcover book is a little pricy (retails for $54.95), but it’s worth it (though you could instead opt for the paperback edition). Either way, I think you’ll find this book to just be a bushel of fun.

(Oh, this collection also features some of Tim Sale’s earliest work, as an inker, long before he made his name drawing Batman stories written by Jeph Loeb, or even Grendel stories written by Matt Wagner. I mostly like him better as an inker than a penciller, but that’s just my personal taste.)