This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 11 July 2007.

  • Countdown #42 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Tony Bedard, Carlos Magno, Mark McKenna & Jay Leisten (DC)
  • Fables #63, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice Society of America #7, by Geoff Johns, Dale Eaglesham, Ruy José and Rodney Ramos (DC)
  • Nova #4, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Sean Chen, Scott Hanna, & Brian Denham (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)

Chris Sims thinks the current Fables storyline might be its best yet, and I think he’s on to something: “The Good Prince” is turning out to be quite excellent, and you can just tell that it’s not going to end well (Willingham isn’t exactly Mr. Happy when it comes to his storylines). The book went through a bit of a lull when Bigby Wolf and Snow White were off-panel, since they’re the heart of the series, but this storyline combines a large scope with small character bits, and you can’t ask for more than that. Fables has been one of the best comics published for years now, and though it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, it’s definitely a must-check-out.

JSA #7 is getting more attention in the blogosphere due to Crotchgate than anything else. The series otherwise continues to be solidly middle-of-the-road: Enjoyable but uninspiring stories, solid but unexceptional artwork, not much in the way of direction. It feels overall more like the 1980s series All-Star Squadron more than anything else, only not quite as good on any front.

Nova #4Nova is taking a few months out to cross over with Annihilation: Conquest. While the art is excellent (Brian Denham does a great Sean Chen impression on the pages he fills in on), I worry that it’s going to lose the great character bits that made the first three issues so good. On the other hand, the issue ends on a cliffhanger that suggests Abnett and Lanning are taking an intriguing way to take a time out from the regular series. So it might all work out.

I still can’t get over just how good Chen’s artwork is, though. How has Marvel not put in the effort to turn this guy into their biggest star?

On the one hand, the B.P.R.D. chain of mini-series is taking forever to develop its ongoing storyline. On the other hand, some of the detours are pretty entertaining, and this is one of them: An ancient cadre of scientists with a plan to change the world, and a connection to Abe Sapien’s past life. I often think of giving up on B.P.R.D., but it’s still entertaining and pretty consistent, so I keep reading.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 20 June 2007.

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #53, by Tad Williams & Shawn McManus (DC)
  • The Brave and The Bold #4, by Mark Waid, George Pérez & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Countdown #45 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, J. Calafiore & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Ex Machina #29, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice League of America #10, by Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes & Sandra Hope (DC)
  • Annihilation Conquest Prologue, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, & Mike Perkins (Marvel)
  • Incredible Hulk #107, by Greg Pak, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (Marvel)
  • Boneyard #25, by Richard Moore (NBM)
  • Captain Clockwork: Chronology by Glenn Whitmore (Captain Clockwork)

Aquaman is reportedly on the chopping block. In a way this is too bad, because I’d like to actually read the end of this current story, but it’s been dragging on so long and so aimlessly that I can’t work up too much sympathy.

Gosh how I love The Brave and The Bold: Punchy, funny writing, inventive threats, and plenty of tension. Really, Mark Waid has reinvented the sorts of stories that populated comics in my childhood, but updated them and made them feel less ludicrous. They’re just fun. Now granted, this is one long story (I don’t know how many issues it’s going to run), but it’s pretty much the cream of the crop in mainstream superhero comics today.

On the other hand, Justice League of America ends “The Lightning Saga” in a particularly unsatisfying manner: Not only did the Legion of Super-Heroes have hardly any relevance to the story, but the JLA and JSA didn’t really have any, either! Graeme McMillan at Comix Experience sums up the mess; here’s an excerpt with the spoilery bits removed:

Justice League of America #10 is an Awful ending to the JLA/JSA crossover. […] The fact that we’re seeing an entirely different Legion of Super-Heroes from the ones who have their own series isn’t really given any attempt at explanation (There’s one line of dialogue which kind of suggests that they’re from Earth-2? Maybe?). Why this alternaretroLegion came back in time to […] is given no attempt at explanation, either; instead, we’re given scenes that hint that the Legion had an ulterior motive, but, of course, that’s not explained either. It’s hard for me to say how truly sloppy this final chapter is, even compared with the earlier parts of this story. It’s truly fan-fiction that somehow got published by a real company, with all the entitlement and lack of logic or respect for the reader that that implies. […] [G]oddamn if [DC’s] not making it hard to care with the shitty comics that they’re putting out right now.

“It’s truly fan-fiction that somehow got published by a real company”. That’s exactly right.

Greg Burgas savages this issue in much greater detail over at Comics Should Be Good. If you bothered to read “The Lightning Saga”, you should read his critique. His point about there not being a villain (or any sort of antagonist) in the story is also well-taken, and is another indication that this truly is just fan fiction.

My enjoyment of Nova has not only gotten me interested in last year’s Annihilation event from Marvel (but I’ll wait for the trade paperbacks to come out), but in the new Annihilation Conquest event. The reason I’m interested is that it seems like it’s only an “event” in name, but it’s really just a framework for the creators to play in a separate area of the Marvel Universe (i.e., deep space) within a larger story. That sort of thing can be a lot of fun. Beats the heck out of what’s going on on Earth in the MU.

Incredible Hulk is running a sort-of side story to World War Hulk, involving some occasional allies of the Hulk (Hercules and Angel in this case), and Amadeus Cho, a teenager who’s the 7th-smartest person in the world. It’s more comical than dramatic, and it feels unnecessary other than to mark time in the regular book while WWH is going on. Nice art (as usual) by Gary Frank, though.

Captain Clockwork: Chronology is a trade paperback-sized black-and-white volume starring Glenn Whitmore’s character, who is really four heroes who operate in different time periods, between World War II and the mid-21st century. I reviewed the special a couple of months ago, and this is more of the same; indeed, it collects the special, some earlier-published stories, and a few new ones, in a nice squarebound $12.95 package. The sometimes-befuddling artwork would be fine except that the stories are likewise befuddling: The first three Clockworks all have the same name and all resemble each other (except that the third one has a goatee), and individual stories often confused me, especially in their resolution. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts in that there is a larger story being told, but it’s a loose story and not entirely satisfying.

Overall, I think Whitmore needs to tighten up both his writing and his drawing for this to be a worthwhile ongoing project. I’d consider buying a second volume, but I’d want to see some substantial improvement when thumbing through it before plunking down the money.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 13 June 2007.

  • Countdown #46 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Fables: Sons of Empire TPB vol 9, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Michael Allred & others (DC/Vertigo)
  • Fables #62, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice #12 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Doug Braithwaite (DC)
  • Nova #3, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Sean Chen & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • World War Hulk #1 of 5, by Greg Pak, John Romita Jr., & Klaus Janson (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls # 4 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • New Tales of Old Palomar #2, by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
  • Hero by Night #4 of 4, by D.J. Coffman & Jason Embury (Platinum Studios)

I realized earlier this week that Countdown seems to be featuring mostly new artists in its stable. I think the most prominent artist I recognized was J. Calafiore, who’s mainly known for his decent-but-unspectacular work on Marvel’s Exiles. 52 used several artists per issue (until the later issues), which made for uneven artwork, but there was usually some good stuff in each issue. So far, none of the Countdown artists have been duds, so that’s good.

Justice is one of the least-necessary mini-series in recent memory. Ross’ painting over Braithwaite’s pencils was so-so, certainly nowhere near as good as raw Ross. The story was a straight-up classic JLA story: A bunch of villains get together to erase the heroes and take over the world, but the heroes fight back, and one of the villains has a secret plan behind the main plan. Plot-by-numbers, with the additional (and ultimately meaningless) element of the villains knowing the heroes’ secret identities.

The series tries to be different by providing insight into the heroes’ psyches, via first-hand narratives. Frankly, it’s just awful. Somehow Kurt Busiek makes this sort of monologue work in series like Marvels (Ross’ first major work) and Astro City, but it completely fizzles here, sounding contrived and often cloying (which it also did in Ross’ series of tabloids with Paul Dini from a few years ago). For instance, this scene:

[Superman streaks out of the sky, heat vision flashing.]

Superman: No one’s going to die, Scarecrow. Not in your city, or the one that’s sinking. Or in any of them. Not one. Not today.

Green Lantern (internal monologue): There’s fear in Superman’s voice. He doesn’t believe his words. He says them anyway. As if speaking the impossible is the first step to making it possible.

The series was full of tell-don’t-show text like this. Wordy, unnecessary.

If you cut out that stuff, the series is just another Justice League story, with way too many characters. It doesn’t even make me nostalgic for the 70s JLA, it’s just not a good series. But it’s over.

World War Hulk, on the other hand, is a lot of fun so far. Not least because Iron Man and his cronies need their butts kicked by someone, and the Hulk’s a great candidate to do it. I’m not a big fan of John Romita Jr’s artwork but he does have a clarity of layout to make the big fight scenes entertaining. The blogosphere is giving this one good reviews so far, so it looks like writer Greg Pak is going places.

Nova is another side of the Civil War fallout, and issue #3 continues to build on the series’ strong start, as Nova encounters some new enemies and an old friend and see just how messed up the Marvel universe has become. It looks like the series is pulling away from Earth for a while after this issue (presumably because Nova might actually be powerful to take on the Hulk and that would just confuse everything), but hopefully it will continue to be as rewarding. I’m reluctant to bother with any of Marvel’s space-based cross-overs, so I hope the next few issues will be readable on their own.

New Tales of Old Palomar is surreal this month. Disappointing, really. I prefer the character stuff.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 9 May 2007.

  • Countdown #51 of 51 (counting backwards), by Paul Dini, Jesus Saiz & Jimmy Palmiotti (DC)
  • Jack of Fables #10, by Bill Willingham Matthew Sturges, Tony Akins & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Nova #2, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Sean Chen & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • The Secret History Book Two: Castle of the Djinn, by Jean-Pierre Pécau & Igor Kordey (Archaia Studios Press)

Countdown kicks off in the wake of 52, and it involves a cadre of Monitors (from wa-a-ay back in the days of Crisis on Infinite Earths in the mid-80s), one of whom has gone rogue and is out to kill people who have jumped between parallel universes. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – yet. But it’s early going.

Ah, now I remember why I like Abnett and Lanning at their best: They don’t always take the obvious route. Rather than a big fight between Nova and Iron Man (as suggested by the cover of this month’s Nova), instead Nova is brought up-to-date on what’s happened during Marvel’s Civil War, has an uncomfortable reunion with his parents, and learns what happened to his former partners in the New Warriors. And since apparently the other heroes in the Marvel Universe have gone insane and actually support this “Initiative” that Iron Man has cooked up to keep the heroes in line, Nova seems quite reasonable in feeling very uncomfortable with it.

Nova already feels very believable as a young man with the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders, and yet still stuck between being a teenager and an adult, in the sense that he has the sense of responsibility, but not yet the experience to manage it. And given his power level, if he snaps, it ought to make for some exciting comics. Now that I think about it, Nova could turn out to be the series that Ms. Marvel should have been.

Book two of The Secret History isn’t as good as book one: Kordey’s art is still excellent, but I found the story confusing. I’m not familiar with many of the historical references, and I felt like I needed to be to follow the story (which I didn’t in the first book). The narrative didn’t flow as smoothly, and I sometimes had trouble figuring out what was going on in a page. Overall it felt like a lot of running around without much of an outcome, so if there isn’t something sneaky here which is going to inform the series’ eventual outcome, then I’d say this volume felt superfluous.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 11 April 2007.

  • All-Star Superman #7, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)
  • Fables #60, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • 52 #49 of 52 (DC)
  • Sandman Mystery Theatre: Dr. Death and The Night of the Butcher vol 5, by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis & Vince Locke (DC/Vertigo)
  • Sandman Mystery Theatre: Sleep of Reason #5 of 5, by John Ney Rieber & Eric Nguyen (DC/Vertigo)
  • Wonder Woman #7, by Jodi Picoult, Drew Johnson & Ray Snyder (DC)
  • Marvel Masterworks: Iron Man vol 77 HC, collecting Tales of Suspense #84-99 and Iron Man #1, by Stan Lee & Gene Colan (Marvel)
  • newuniversal #5, by Warren Ellis & Salvador Larroca (Marvel)
  • Nova #1, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Sean Chen & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls #2 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • The Complete Peanuts 1963-1964 HC, by Charles M. Schultz (Fantagraphics)

When the original Sandman Mystery Theatre came out, in the early 90s, I as intrigued, but had a very hard time getting into it. A lot of it was the artwork: Guy Davis is a decent artist, but he had a penchant (at that time) for drawing all his characters with huge noses, which was very distracting. (I understand that some people have larger noses. But not everyone does.) The occasional guest artist tended to be even worse. And, as it turns out, the series just didn’t lend itself well to serialization; each 4-issue story had awkward breaks between issues, which made it difficult to follow the series from a narrative standpoint.

All of which means that I’ve been buying the trade paperbacks and enjoying them a lot more than I did the original series. It’s the story of Wesley Dodds, the original Sandman, a late-1930s adventurer who is driven by intense dreams to seek out and capture the most twisted of villains. Each story features a different psychopath as its heavy, and it also chronicles the ongoing romance between Dodds and Dian Belmont, a young socialite whose father is the chief of police. The story is a little bit Peter Wimsey, a little bit Nexus, and a little bit Batman. Wes is a very fallable – but driven – hero, and Dian is smart and independent. The Sandman operates outside the law and sometimes runs afoul of the police. And, fortunately, Davis’ artwork has gotten much better by this latest volume. I’m enjoying it more than I’d ever thought I would. The series is long since defunct, but I still hope that it comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Which is more than I can say for Sleep of Reason, which updates the Sandman to 21st century Afghanistan. I’ve already commented about this series before, but I don’t like the art, the characters are flimsy, and the story seems kind of pointless. It’s a poor successor to the original.

I wasn’t going to pick up Nova until I realized it was being drawn by Sean Chen, whose work on Kurt Busiek’s Iron Man 8 or so years ago I’d enjoyed tremendously. Authors Abnett and Lanning have an uneven track record, but it might be more charitable to call it “eccentric”, and I’m usually willing to give their books a glance. Here, Nova is still an Earthman who’s inherited the mantle of the protector of an alien world, but now he’s the last such protector left, and he’s driving himself to fill the void left in the wake of the others’ deaths (which occurred in one of Marvel’s myriad crossover series – Annihilation, I think). Like Ms. Marvel, there’s potential here, but no sign at all where things are going to go. Hopefully the writers can figure it all out (and editorial won’t quash their best ideas).

Another month, another Marvel Masterworks. I’m not buying very many of them anymore, and yet I’m still behind. On the bright side, a new Peanuts volume is always cause for celebration, and I’m looking forward to devouring this one.

By the way, it looks like I’ve now been writing this weekly comics roundup for 6 months now. How time flies!