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This Week's Haul

  • Batman Beyond #2 of 6, by Adam Beechen, Ryan Benjamin & John Stanisci (DC)
  • Brightest Day #6, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Scott Clark, Joe Prado, Vicente Cifuentes, David Beaty, Mark Irwin & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • DC Universe: Legacies #3 of 10, by Len Wein, Scott Kolins, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Dave Gibbons (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #41, by James Robinson, Mark Bagley & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #3, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Francis Portela & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Power Girl #14, by Judd Winick & Sami Basri (DC)
  • Time Masters: Vanishing Point #1 of 6, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Zatanna #3, by Pail Dini & Stephane Roux (DC)
  • Dynamo 5: Sins of the Father #2 of 5, by Jay Faerber & Júlio Brilha (Image)
Well, now I know the answer to my question last time about how DC Universe: Legacies was going to bridge the gap between the golden age heroes retiring in the early 1950s, and the fact that the modern heroes – given that they’re between 25 and 45 years of age today in 2010 – couldn’t have become active until about 1990 (or later): This isn’t taking place in the regular DC Universe (despite the title), because Superman and the rest of the Justice League come on the scene in the 1950s and 60s, complete with fashions appropriate for the era (courtesy of the always-great Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez on pencils, although Dave Gibbons – himself a terrific artist – is perhaps not the most sympathetic inker for him).

The story is continuing to focus on our everyman hero, Paul, who’s now an adult and has joined the police force, inspired by his mystery-men heroes, and it’s a pretty good one, although still a step down from the same sorts of material that Kurt Busiek has done in this area. (Frankly it’s impossible not to compare stories of this sort to Kusiek’s Marvels and Astro City because Busiek has done the most and the best work in this territory. I’m sure I’ll do it again.) How Len Wein will cover heroes in the modern age, or the aging of these silver age heroes, remains to be seen. Is he ambitious enough to make it all hang together into a sensible whole, or is he just going to ignore little details like character ages (even as the main character does age)?

Now I remember one of the things that drove me nuts about Paul Levitz’ 1980s Legion of Super-Heroes series: He just can’t stick to a single main story in each issue much of the time. In these first three issues we’ve had:

  1. Earth-Man, the speciesist leader of the former regime, is forced into the Legion as a compromise between the new government and his supporters.
  2. He’s given a Green Lantern ring by a mysterious remnant of the Guardians of the Universe, and finds (in this issue) that that power comes with a price – responsibility for nonhuman sentients.
  3. The moon Titan is destroyed, and the mind controlling Saturn Queen takes over several Legionnaires running disaster relief in its wake.
  4. Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl’s twin sons disappear and they chase after them in a time bubble.

The problem is that each of these threads has been given more-or-less equal time in each of the first three issues, which means that none of those issues has been truly memorable; they’ve been a hodge-podge of fragments of stories (mixed in with some single-page asides of yet more plot threads, such as some Durlan shapeshifters arriving on Earth on a mysterious mission in this issue). I guess lots of Legion fans like this soap-operatic approach to serial comics, but I can’t stand it. It’s one reason I’ve tended to think of Levitz as a second-tier writer. Compare him to one of his contemporaries, Marv Wolfman: Wolfman’s New Teen Titans also dealt with multiple plot threads, but for the first four years of the title most issues had a primary story, with maybe a few pages devoted to some forward-looking plot threads. Not everything worked, but individual issues clearly had particular stories. Levitz’ Legion writing meanders all over the place, occasionally converges on a big story, but often with very little build-up, as if he said to himself, “Hey! It’s time for an epic story!” and wrote one up. While it does take skill to keep these balls in the air, I think at a fundamental level it’s sloppy writing.

On the bright side, I’m pretty happy with how Yildiray Cinar’s art is shaping up, as he’s getting more comfortable with the characters, and the expressions look more genuine. The new costumes are generally pretty good, although taking yet more fabric away from Shadow Lass’ outfit and adding awkward cleavage to Sensor Girl’s are rather awkward changes. I also still hate Element Lad’s pink outfit – can we have the nifty green-and-blue one he wore in the late 70s back, please?

So here’s my problem with Judd Winick’s Power Girl after two issues: He’s already resorted to the hoary old chestnut of having her company taken over by creditors, and having her deal with a rampaging menace while her other self has to deal with those issues in her personal life. It’s been done over and over (heck, seeing it done to the golden age Green Lantern in All-Star Comics was a memorable moment in my childhood comics in the 70s, since it led into one of the series’ best stories), and it’s just plain tired and old at this point. I know my main criticism of the Gray and Palmiotti’s run on the title is that it was too lightweight and frivolous and that I wanted to see more of PG in her secret identity, but this isn’t at all what I had in mind. I was thinking more that we’d see her being a successful businesswoman and make some genuinely interesting discoveries running a high-tech firm. But she hasn’t even had the company long enough for tearing it down to have any emotional impact on the read.

If this is a sign of things to come, then I bet predictions of Winick’s run coming to a quick end will come to pass.

It must be great to be Dan Jurgens: He’s been working in comics books for 25 years, and he’s gotten to write and draw plenty of the big guns (Superman, for example), while also being able to play with his own creations, such as Booster Gold. Time Masters: Vanishing Point is essentially Jurgens’ continuation of his recent Booster Gold series, but he gets to play with some of the big guns – Superman and Green Lantern – while essentially writing a shadow series to Grant Morrison’s Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne series. Booster, Rip Hunter, Superman and GL are all stuck in the 15th century looking for the time-lost Batman, while some time-traveling villains try to capture one of Rip’s lab (being foiled by Booster’s allies).

I don’t expect Jurgens will be given license to have much impact on what happens to Batman here, but I do expect it will be a fun little series focusing on its principal characters, especially Rip and Booster. Jurgens has his flaws as both a writer and an artist, but his stuff is almost always inventive and fun, and this one’s off to a good start.

This Week's Haul

A couple of good hardcover collections this week: The new Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers volume collects the Kree-Skrull War story from the early 1970s, with terrific art by Neal Adams, and surrounding stories with fine work by Barry Windsor-Smith and the Buscema brothers. The sprawling, deep-space story is a tad disappointing by today’s standards, but it was state-of-the-art at the time.

And then, West Coast Avengers Assemble is still a rollicking good time, chronicling the formation of the splinter team in the early 1980s, it’s some of Roger Stern’s finest writing, and a fine follow-up to Mark Gruenwald’s Hawkeye story, collected a year or so ago. The team of relative lightweights putting together a plan to take out one of Marvel’s most powerful villains is one of the best examples of brains-over-brawn in superhero comics history. This was probably the last high point of the Avengers until Kurt Busiek’s run 15 years later.

And with that, on to the regular stuff:

  • Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #2 of 6, by Grant Morrison & Frazer Irving (DC)
  • Green Lantern #54, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Green Lantern Corps #48, by Tony Bedard, Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #23, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (DC/Vertigo)
  • Power Girl #12, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers HC vol 137, collecting The Avengers vol 1 #89-100, by Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, Sal Buscema, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Tom Palmer & others (Marvel)
  • Avengers: West Coast Avengers Assemble HC, by Roger Stern, Bob Harras, Bob Hall, Al Milgrom, Luke McDonnell, Don Hudson, Brett Breeding, Joe Sinnott & others (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #579, by Jonathan Hickman, Neil Edwards & Andrew Currie (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #6, by Mark Waid, Horacio Domingues & Juan Castro (Boom)
  • The Mystery Society #1, by Steve Niles & Fiona Staples (IDW)
The guys over at Comics Should Be Good (Brian Curran: “Irving’s artwork is stunning on the comic.”; Greg Burgas: “Irving’s art is the best part of the book, as it’s always a treat to see it”.) are praising Frazer Irving’s art on The Return of Bruce Wayne #2 about as highly as anything they’ve reviewed, but I don’t see it. It’s not awful, mind you, and the splash page is pretty nifty:


(click for larger image)

But the layouts and compositions are pretty bland, and Irving’s style is decidedly over-rendered. Plus his faces range from vaguely-human to comically-grimacing. A few panels that made me raise my eyebrows for these reasons:



(again, click for larger images)

If Irving were drawing the whole series it might not look so strange, but following the very different – and far superior – Chris Sprouse work on the first issue, it’s a big come-down. But, diff’rent strokes and all that.

The story’s pretty good, although it felt very similar to some other stories: The basic structure of a witch-hunter not exactly beloved by even his friends much less the local townsfolk (the role the amnesiac Bruce Wayne plays here) feels virtually lifted from Tim Burton’s film Sleepy Hollow. The character of Annie, the nonconformist who lives in the woods and rescues and falls in love with Bruce, feels much like Madame Xanadu in the story in her own series a year or so ago, in which she was living a similar life during the Inquisition in Spain. The stuff involving Superman and the others is the most interesting part of the issue, especially as Morrison’s telling that end of the story in a non-linear fashion. His depiction of Batman as smarter than, well, anyone, gets a little tiresome, though, and taking that to its logical conclusion as is suggested here is kind of ridiculous.

Power Girl has been a series of lighthearted fun, terrific artwork by Amanda Conner, but the stories by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have been total fluff. (You know when you bring out Vartox half a year into your run that you’re not really set on accomplishing anything substantial.) And now, issue #12 is the last of the run by these three. Am I sad to see them go? Well, sorta – mainly Conner, who’s as distinctive an artist as is working at DC these days – but the series never felt like it was living up to its potential, or really even trying.

The last issue is rife with cheesecake (is this awkward, or is it “okay” because it’s drawn by a woman?), but otherwise enjoyable: It brings back most of the supporting cast (yes, even Vartox) for their own scenes, but mostly focusing on Terra, who’s basically PG’s BFF, where we meet Terra’s parents (who are about as peculiar as you’d expect people from an underground city with future-science to be). It wraps up back at PG’s company, which we haven’t seen nearly enough of during the run. It’s a feel-good issue, and enjoyable for what it is.

Comparing Power Girl to Geoff Johns & Dan Jurgens’ run on Booster Gold seems apt: Both are second-string characters given a new title with a solid artist (Jurgens can be a little stiff, but he’s by no means bad). But Booster’s series both felt weightier and meaningful without being depressing, and it felt like it progressed over time. Power Girl’s series just felt like a set of random encounters, and that she basically ended up in the same place where she started. Sure, Booster could have been a little more fun, but it still had some wit and charm to it, while Power Girl just didn’t have any depth. I was sad to see Jurgens leave Booster (especially when I saw what Giffen & DeMatteis were going to do with it), but I’m not really sad to see this team leave Power Girl, other than losing Conner’s artwork, because I’m hopeful the new writer will give the series some more substance.

All-in-all, there were far worse ways to be spending your three bucks a month for the past year than on Power Girl, but that’s not really a strong epitaph.

Hahaha! I was a little doubtful of The Mystery Society going in – I’d heard of Steve Niles, but I don’t think I’d read anything by him – thinking it sounded like a knock-off of Hellboy, but I guess it’s all in the execution: This first issue is stylish and funny and in a completely different way from Hellboy.

The premise is that a husband-and-wife team, Nick and Anastasia, form a group to investigate supernatural mysteries. The issue opens with Nick going to jail for something, and volunteering to tell the beginnings of the society. Cut to one of Nick’s first missions, breaking into a high-security government facility to rescue a pair of twins, exchanging banter over the phone with his wife along the way, as she welcomes (a little awkwardly) an applicant to join their team. Nick and Ana have a playful back-and-forth that I think deliberately evokes the old Thin Man movies, barely taking things seriously, yet Nick at least seems to be taking things very seriously indeed under his enthusastic exterior.

Fiona Staples’ artwork is rough around the edges – the backgrounds are a little skimpy, the inking a little sketchy – but her art has an exuberance that matches the story and the characters. It sounds like Niles has some interesting plans for this series, so I hope she sticks around and we see her develop as an artist.

As origin stories go, the first issue of The Mystery Society is a cut above. I’m looking forward to the second issue.

This Week's Haul

Hey, would you look at this, it’s an entry finally posted in a timely manner!

  • The Brave and the Bold #31, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chad Hardin, Justiniano, Wayne Faucher & Walden Wong (DC)
  • Fables #92, by Bill Willingham & David Lapham (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #44, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Tom Nguyen & Keith Champagne (DC)
  • Power Girl #8, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Starman #81, by James Robinson, Fernando Dagnino & Bill Sienkiewicz (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #140, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lante & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
  • Nova #33, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • The Thing: Project Pegasus deluxe HC, by Ralph Macchio, Mark Gruenwald, Sal Buscema, John Byrne, George Pérez, Sam Grainger, Alfredo Alcala, Joe Sinnott & Gene Day (Marvel)
  • X-Men: The Asgardian Wars HC, by Chris Claremont, Paul Smith, Arthur Adams, Bob Wiacek, Terry Austin, Al Gordon & Mike Mignola (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #2, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
  • RASL #6, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon)
The Brave and the Bold #31 I picked up a couple of DC books this week which are largely humorous, but they couldn’t be much more different if they’d tried. The Brave and the Bold features the uncomfortable pairing of the Atom and the Joker, where the Joker is suffering from a brain illness, and only the Atom can save him, by shrinking down far enough to deliver a capsule to a point in his brain that might cure him – or kill him. The story opens with Atom being unable to get to Arkham at first because he can only travel through land telephone lines, not cell phones, and then features several pages of Atom refusing to help save the Joker until he’s told that the cure might not even work, so Atom could do his best and still fail. The phone idea is cute, as long as you don’t think about it too hard (throwing an arbitrary limit on an ability that doesn’t make much sense in the first place is always silly; wouldn’t Atom also have trouble with fiber optic cables in the phone system?), but wrestling with his conscience doesn’t work at all. The Atom if an old-style hero who’s largely stuck to those roots, and while he might lament the need to save the life of an enemy, his over-the-top heart-wringing here feels completely out of character.

The rest of the story is okay, and played more seriously: While in the Joker’s brain, Atom gets flashes of Joker’s childhood memories – the making of a psychopath, as it were. It’s not terribly insightful, and has flashes of gallows humor, which still isn’t terribly funny. There’s isn’t much covered here that hasn’t been covered in many Joker stories previously, and the story wasn’t as satisfying overall as, say, John Byrne’s tale in his Generations series where one Batman has to save the Joker from being haunted to death by the ghost of an earlier Batman.

But mostly it’s that the humorous bits go so horribly wrong that makes this story rather painful to read. Quite a letdown after last month’s decent Green Lantern/Doctor Fate yarn. The format of The Brave and the Bold seems to be exposing many of Straczynski’s flaws as a writer, and it’s not pretty.

Power Girl #8 On the other hand, while the set-up of this 2-part Power Girl story disappointed me, the payoff in this issue is considerably funnier. Okay, the cliffhanger from last month gets handled in 4 pages (despite “hours of fighting” having elapsed between issues), but after that, rather than PG being (theoretically) at the mercy of Vartox, she manages to tame him down to civilized levels, and laughs out loud at some of the ridiculousness of his plans. There are several giggle-worthy moments in the issue, and everything works out for the best for both characters.

I still think Power Girl would be better served with some more serious stories – since very little about the series has been serious so far – but at least they got the lightheartedness of this issue right. And certainly more right than Straczynski did in The Brave and the Bold.

Starman #81 The most-heralded Blackest Night series revival has to be this one issue of James Robinson’s Starman. Naturally Robinson – who writes the issue – sticks to his guns by having Jack Knight stay retired despite his brother being raised by the black lantern rings to wreak havoc on Opal City; instead we catch up with some of his supporting cast to see where they’ve ended up since Jack left and his father died. Naturally the Shade figures as the prominent hero. It’s a clever way to do another Starman issue without really doing another Starman issue. Even the art evokes some of the low-key feel of the original series, although I’ve never been a big fan of Bill Sienkiewicz’s endless squiggles as an inker.

It works as an add-on to the original series, rather than just a cynical Blackest Night tie-in. (Don McPherson notes that readers of the series are likely to enjoy the issue more than people surfing by due to the tie-in, which is exactly right.)

I’ve heard a rumor (which may be baseless) that Robinson is interested in doing a Shade series. I’d totally sign up for that.

The Thing: Project Pegasus If you want to see how they did good superhero comics when I was a teenager (in the 1980s), Marvel has two fine hardcover collections out this week. First (and best), is the Thing in Project Pegasus, from his old Marvel Two-in-One series. If you can believe it, there was once a series (it ran for 100 issues!) which mostly featured this member of the Fantastic Four teaming up with a different hero every month, often with good stories and better artwork. Project Pegasus was the apex of the series, a 6-issue story featuring some third- and fourth-string supporting characters, but what made it work was the setting: Ol’ blue-eyes signs on for a tour as a security guard at Project Pegasus, a high-security prison and research institute for super-powered criminals, as well as heroes and innocents who need some sort of high-tech treatment. During his stint, an outside organization infiltrates the project for their own nefarious aims, leading to a major disaster (when their main agent goes rogue) which Ben and company have to fight.

Admittedly, the motivations of the infiltrating organization are a little vague, but it’s still cracking good superhero adventure stuff. Great art by Byrne, Pérez and company, too. The series has also been collected in paperback in the past, but the hardcover has a 2-part story which introduced Pegasus 2 years earlier. Check it out.

X-Men: The Asgardian Wars Then there’s X-Men: The Asgardian Wars, which was arguably Chris Claremont’s last hurrah as a great comics writer. The Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants titles (the main X-books in the late 80s) had been spluttering along in gradual artistic decline (in my opinion) when Claremont put together this pair of 2-part stories featuring Marvel’s mutants facing off against the Norse god Loki. First Loki tries to gain favors from even more powerful gods by forcing a boon on humanity, and the X-Men and the Canadian team Alpha Flight have to deal with the consequences. Then, perturbed by the X-Men’s interference, Loki abducts Storm (who was powerless at the time) and accidentally knocks a collection of New Mutants across the realm of Asgard, where they find themselves rather out of their league. The X-Men join in the fun to foil Loki, who’s really just entertaining himself while waiting for the right moment to make a play for the throne of Asgard.

The first story is one of Claremont’s better moral dilemmas for his characters, putting the heroes on opposite sides of a complex issue, and it’s lushly illustrated by the great Paul Smith. The second story more of a straightforward adventure story, and it’s drawn by Arthur Adams just as he was getting good, although it still has a little too much of the “boobs, boobs and more boobs” style he sometimes lapses into, and the finishes are not as clean nor the work as detailed as his later stuff.

But honestly I think this was the last great X-Men story. Yeah yeah, Grant Morrison, Josh Whedon, Warren Ellis, blah blah blah. None of them turned out X-Men stories as good as this. And this was just the last gasp of the “All-New, All-Different X-Men”; it used to be even better.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #30, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Ex Machina #47, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fables #91, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #43, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • Power Girl #7, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Astonishing X-Men #33, by Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #1, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
  • The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #3 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
The Brave and the Bold #30 The fourth issue of J. Michael Straczynski’s The Brave and the Bold is a little better than the first three. The plot works like this: Some years ago Doctor Fate encountered Green Lantern (the Hal Jordan version) at a point when Fate was feeling a little uneasy about his role in the universe. He imprinted a piece of himself in Green Lantern’s ring with the intent that it will emerge sometime in the future, and then return to the past to inform him of how his life has turned out in the intervening years. So in the present day, GL has gotten into trouble on a dead world when the Fate aspect emerges, and together the two of them work to help GL escape safely, but at the cost of the Fate aspect not being able to return to his originator. This is a small tragedy since this Doctor Fate – the original, Kent Nelson – has died years since, and GL suggests that maybe by going back, the aspect could help the original Fate survive.

The story is rather contrived, relying on some pretty obscure continuity details, but glossing over some other continuity details (such as that GL probably doesn’t have the same ring he had years ago, due to his own convoluted history). But the spirit of the story works pretty well.

Unfortunately, Straczynski’s run on the title has been dragged down by exposing many of his weaknesses as a writer. To start with, when Mark Waid launched the series a few years ago, he put a new spin on the book by writing an epic story which featured a large cast, whereas Staczynski has been writing one-off character pieces pairing a major hero (Batman, Flash, Green Lantern) with a lesser one (Doctor Fate is the biggest name among these; the others have been Dial “H” For Hero, the Blackhawks, and Brother Power the Geek). Straczynski seems to have a weakness for these little character pieces, and they worked fine in Babylon 5 as a break from the larger story, but a steady diet of them makes the title feel, well, trivial.

Straczynski is known – rightly or wrongly – for writing weak or stilted dialogue. I mostly think his dialogue is fine, but B&B seems filled with some of the most overwrought narratives I can recall him writing, mixed with some flagrantly inappropriate dialogue for the characters in question. The set-up for this story seems contrived for Fate to get in a zinger about GL’s ring not working on the color yellow, which is very much against character for Fate. The story also ends with a lengthy monologue by Fate in the past wondering what happened to his aspect, which also feels very un-Fate-like. The line between Doctor Fate’s character and Kent Nelson’s has always been fuzzily drawn – on purpose, I think – with the character acting very differently depending on whether he has his mask on or not, and Straczynski seems to tear down the divide here, having Fate speak with Nelson’s voice, a development which just doesn’t ring true for the character. This feels especially wrong since it occurs just two pages after Fate took off his helmet to speak with Nelson’s voice, underscoring the difference between the two sides of the character. Straczynski seems to be forcing the character to fit his story, rather than writing to the character, and it hurts what in general is a fine story.

The brightest light in the issue is the development of Jesus Saiz as the artist. A few issues ago his art felt generic and even stiff, but this issue flows beautifully and has a smoothness and use of shadow and expression that goes some way to compensate for the dialogue, especially since the story is mostly two guys standing around and talking to each other. It’s a nearly-unprecedented pace of development for an artist, and it does make me curious to see where he’ll go next.

Power Girl #7 Power Girl reintroduces the character Vartox, who in the 1970s (before DC rebooted everything) was a rival with Superman for Lana Lang’s attentions. Amanda Conner even draws an homage to the cover of Vartox’s first appearance, and the character still has his extra-cheesy 1970s porn star outfit. In this issue, Vartox’s world becomes sterilized, so he comes to Earth to court Power Girl to be his mate, to start repopulating his world. You can imagine how this goes over with PG, and Vartox is also unspeakably stupid in the stunts he uses to try to woo her, resulting in a powerful and destructive alien being released on Earth.

Greg Burgas loved this issue but I was disappointed. Gray and Palmiotti’s writing on Power Girl has been filled with jokes and themes about Power Girl’s body and sexuality, and while I don’t expect a PG title to never have such things, it’s been just one after another in this series. And her adventures have been fairly trivial: Another fight with the Ultra-Humanite, who wants to put his brain in her body, a group of spoiled rich space girls who come to Earth to have fun, and now Vartox. It’s become a one-note series, and the note is sounding pretty flat.

What I’d like to see in Power Girl is more attention to her being the CEO of her own company (in her secret identity), more time mentoring the young heroine Terra, and some threats with some real weight behind them. There’s a lot of good material to work with here, but instead it’s one lighthearted adventure after another, and not even particularly clever ones.

Yeah, yeah, Amanda Conner’s art is still terrific, but that can only take the book so far.

Incorruptible #1 Mark Waid’s bid to take over the world from Boom! Studios continues with his third title from the company, Incorruptible a spin-off of his excellent series Irredeemable. (His other series, The Unknown also has a fine issue out this week.) Where Irredeemable was about a Superman-like hero going bad for reasons still being explored, Incorruptible is about one of the foremost super-villains going straight and becoming a hero after the Plutonian went bad. The main character is Max Damage, who shows up in this issue after an extended absence to take down his own gang and turn them into the police. He then takes a detective to his lair where he shows him the millions of dollars in his vault – before torching it all as tainted money. Naturally this doesn’t make his sidekick, Jailbait, happy; she’s an underage girl who used to be Max’s lover, and now he’s toeing the straight-and-narrow, while she was happy with a life of crime.

It’s a hell of a set-up, and Waid packs a lot into this first issue, with the promise of plenty of mayhem and ethical dilemmas in Max and Jailbait’s future. Jean Diaz draws the hell out of the thing, the main flaw being some flat expressions, but hopefully that will change with experience. Incorruptible has every sign of being as solid a book as Irredeemable, showcasing Waid’s strengths as having a deep understanding of what makes superheroes work, while being interested in taking them in new directions while staying within the main conventions of the genre. No one in the industry does that better than Mark Waid.

This Week’s Haul

A couple of hardcover collections this week: Avengers Forever will shelve nicely next to the other collections of Kurt Busiek’s excellent Avengers run from a decade ago (although it’s not as good as the main title was, being largely of interest only to longtime Avengers wonks like myself), while Spider-Man Masterworks continues the silver age reprints of the wall-crawler, which still hold up pretty well today.

Meanwhile, on a technical note, I’ve finally switched away from ImageManager to manage images in my WordPress install, and I’ve moved to the native image management support with Scissors for some additional functionality. So far it seems to provide exactly the same look, which makes me happy; the transition ended up being really easy.

Anyway, on with the haul:

  • The Brave and the Bold #26, by John Rozum & Scott Hampton (DC)
  • Ex Machina #44, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Power Girl #4, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Wednesday Comics #7, by many hands (DC)
  • Avengers Forever HC, by Kurt Busiek, Roger Stern, Carlos Pacheco & Jesús Merino (Marvel)
  • Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man HC vol 122, collecting The Amazing Spider-Man #100-109, by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gil Kane, John Romita & Frank Giacoia (Marvel)
  • Unthinkable #4 of 5, by Mark Sable & Julian Totino Tedesco (Boom)
  • Invincible #65, by Robert Kitkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time #4 of 5, by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & Rick Woodall (Red 5)
Power Girl #4 Bwah-hah-hah! I was chuckling through the first half of Power Girl #4, which retreats completely from the big “let’s fight the Ultra-Humanite – again” story of the first three issues, and instead gets down to Power Girl’s personal life. Power Girl takes Terra out to see a horror movie (which PG loves but Terra hates), and PG gets hit on by a character from a TV show I don’t watch. Then they have to head out to deal with an emergency, and Terra totally doesn’t get the idea of bringing her costume with her, so she heads out to fight in her regular clothes. The villain (a young woman on an excessive environmental kick and who has magical powers) refers to PG as “busty airborne lass”, and gets taken down because she’s basically too ridiculous to win against two actual heroes.

(The one awkward thing in all this, as Greg Burgas noted, is that Terra strips down to her panties to head off to fight the monsters. While one could rationalize this by Terra not really being modest due to her backstory, or taking off her pants because her costume doesn’t have legs, it’s frankly a joke that falls flat because it feels creepy. Given that the tone of the comic is light and jokey, not all the gags are going to work, but I think the editor should have talked them down from this one.)

The second half of the story focuses on PG trying to adjust to life running her new company, and finding a new apartment. It’s fairly routine soap opera stuff, but honestly, superhero comics can use some fairly routine soap opera stuff. It shouldn’t be all about the fighting, it should be about the characters. Treating PG as a real character and not just someone who goes out and punches villains is the best way to set this comic apart from all the other superhero comics out there. I’d like to think there’s space for such a comic on the shelves today, especially with Amanda Conner illustrating it.

The one sour note aside, this issue is basically what the first issue should have been, and it’s raised my enthusiasm for the series 100%. Fun stuff.

Wednesday Comics #7 We’re over the hump in Wednesday Comics this week, so the stories should be well into their second acts, with their climaxes not far off.

Doctor Fate shows up in Strange Adventures to help Adam Strange figure out how to get back to Rann. Even though I’m not a huge Paul Pope fan, I would totally buy a Paul Pope Doctor Fate comic, especially if he can write it without having to fit it into established continuity. Heck, set it in the 1940s, that would be cool!

The writing on Hawkman just gets worse and worse and worse. Who greenlighted this? I can’t figure out how the story could start with an alien invasion, end up on an island of dinosaurs, and possibly make any sense at all when it reaches the end. What’s the point?

Recent developments in both Metamorpho and Deadman are interesting, but neither one has really distinguished itself. Though both are quirkier, neither is really any better than Metal Men, which is a pretty generic strip but is enjoyable enough.

I’m perplexed by the fact that Green Lantern is written by Kurt Busiek, since it has none of the depth of characterization which is his signature. The first half was downright boring, and now that the fighting’s started, it doesn’t look like it’ll get any better.

The “big three” strips are all poor: I’m not reading Wonder Woman at all, Superman is just awful in story and artwork. Batman has little snatches of decent stuff, but it doesn’t hold together as a story, and what story there is isn’t interesting.

Flash is still the best strip in the book, but Supergirl has been looking up recently, and Strange Adventures is in that ballpark too, after a shaky start. J.D. loves Kamandi, and I think Ryan Sook’s artwork is terrific, the story is just too routine for me to care (but boy, the artwork really is gorgeous).

This Week's Haul

A friend of mine told me that I read a shitload of comic books. I’m not sure whether he meant an imperial shitload, or a metric shitload, but whatever crappy units you use, this week was another big load:

  • The Flash: Rebirth #2 of 5, by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Sciver (DC)
  • Blackest Night #0, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert & Rob Hunter (DC)
  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three #1 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Power Girl #1, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • War of Kings #3 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Far West: Bad Mojo #2 of 2, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • Fire and Brimstone #5 of 5, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • Irredeemable #2, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • The Boys #30, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • The Life and Times of Savior 28 #2, by J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Cavallero (IDW)
  • Star Trek: Crew #3 of 5, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910 by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf)
Blackest Night #0 A friend asked if I was going to review Blackest Night #0, which was part of Free Comic Book Day, and how could I resist a direct request?

Blackest Night is this year’s big event in the DC Universe, although writer Geoff Johns says it’s a story he’s wanted to do since he relaunched Green Lantern. There’s a hint of it back in the Black Hand story in the series’ first year, so clearly Johns has had something in mind since then.

This is one of the higher-quality FCBD issues from the Big Two that I can recall: It’s the beginning of a larger story, written by one of their big name writers with solid art (although I’m not entirely sold on Ivan Reis as a top-tier guy). It also does a pretty good job of recapitulating the set-up of Green Lantern, explaining the assortment of “Lantern Corps” through a series of pin-ups, leading into the main story, and also providing a bit of insight into the hero through GL’s dialogue with the Flash, reminiscing about their fallen friends and especially GL’s relationship with Batman. It’s not a complete story in itself – though you can’t fault DC for using a freebie as advertising for the rest of the story – but for what it is it’s quite good.

As I’ve said of late, Green Lantern is probably Geoff Johns’ best work. This issue might not completely sell you on the series – especially since it has a complex backstory at this point – but it certainly tries its darndest. I approach all big events in comics with trepidation, and I don’t have much confidence that it will, as Johns says in his afterword, “recharge the DC Universe”, but I think it could be a fine, fun story.

So check it out. You can’t beat the price.

Power Girl #1 Superman’s almost-cousin Power Girl gets her own ongoing series this month. Thankfully she’s seemingly past the ridiculous identity crisis that plagued her JSA Classified story a few years ago, but the challenge for the series is to give her a reason for being a headliner. PG has always been at her brightest when she plays a counterpoint to other characters – she was, after all, conceived as a young, upstart counterpoint to the stodgy Golden Age Superman – but she’s had trouble leading up her own stories, because she’s not really grounded in anything but being one of the heavy-hitters on a super-team. I assume her appeal is a mix of her (ahem) physique and her strong, no-nonsense personality. Neither of those are really enough to carry a series, but filling her with angst over her background runs counter to her essential personality, and is why the JSA Classified story didn’t work.

This first issue restores her Karen Starr identity from the 70s, in which she’s the head of a tech company. As PG, she fights a bunch of constructs controlled by the Ultra-Humanite (who must be back from irrelevance for about the fifth time by now). It’s okay, but it’s only the barest of groundwork for putting together a complete series about the character. Abnett and Lanning tend to hit more than they miss, but they’ve got their work cut out for them. At least they’re aided and abetted by the always-terrific artwork of Amanda Conner.

I may be a bit skeptical, but I’m pulling for this one to succeed. And not just because PG is a babe!

Astro City: The Dark Age vol 3 #1 Astro City: The Dark Age finally continues with the third part of – I think – four. For those who’ve forgotten – and given the series’ publishing schedule (for which the creators frequently apologize) – it focuses on Astro City in the 1970s and 80s, especially a pair of brothers, one a cop, one a small-time hood, who witness and frequently get caught up in the larger events going on during the time.

Kurt Busiek has said that The Dark Age is the story he’d originally come up with as a sequel to Marvels, but when Marvel didn’t seem interested in it, he reworked it for Astro City. And then came up with a sequel for Marvels anyway, the currently-running Eye of the Camera. Unsurprisingly, since the two series cover the same time period, they have a very similar feel, a general bleakness and foreboding which accompanies the outre and often violent heroes and anti-heroes who peppered comic books of the era. Both series also whip through a large number of events, focusing on their characters from time to time, but often leaving me with a feeling that I’ve missed an awful lot and that I’m not getting the careful exploration of the main characters that I’ve come to expect from Busiek’s writing. In both cases, it seems like he’s trying to jam too much into the series, and that’s saying something given the length of The Dark Age.

I’m hoping that The Dark Age will come to some transcendent climax which will justify the series’ length and some of the larger-than-life keynote moments (the SIlver Agent’s death, and the Apollo Eleven team, for instance), while still bring a sense of closure to the brothers’ lives. It’s a tall order, really. Busiek’s one of the very best writers in comics, but I wonder whether he’s bitten off more than he can handle, here.

Fire and Brimstone #5 Richard Moore’s Fire and Brimstone wraps up this week. The story of an angel and a demon who have been tasked with rounding up a collection of demons they accidentally unleashed on the world millennia ago has been little more than a diversion from his on-hiatus series Boneyard, with wacky and sexy hijinks and not a whole lot of a story (the cover to the left sums up the tone of the series rather well). This last issue involves a deity-turned-hitman gunning for our heroines, with a somewhat tried-and-predictable resolution. It’s nice to see Moore’s art in color, but overall the series has been fluff.

The second half of a new Far West story by Moore also came out this week – but I missed the first issue, so I haven’t read it yet. Thumbing through it I see the pencils are un-inked; Moore’s a fine artist, but his stuff looks a lot better when it’s been inked.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910 I was resoundingly unimpressed with the third volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Black Dossier, which seemed mostly like in-joke wankery and had an utterly lame ending. And it got mixed reviews across the Web, as well. Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill are at it again, though, with the first of three volumes of a story called Century.

The Black Dossier took place in the 1950s, and this volume takes place in 1910, 21 years after the first League story, so to some extent we’re catching up with the League as it’s evolved in more-or-less continuous existence since the disastrous encounter with the Martians in volume two. The story mainly follows two threads: Mina Murray and Allan Quatermain‘s team’s quest to stop a wizard from bringing about the end of the world – a chase which leads them down a seemingly blind alley, although the reader knows there’s more going on than meets their eye. And Janni, the daughter of Captain Nemo, coming to England, and eventually taking up the mantle as his successor. In the mix is a series of dockside murders which swirl around Janni’s story and are told partly in song (more allusions to fictional figures of the time, naturally), although it kind of splutters out at the end.

I think it’ll be hard for LoEG to ever recapture the sense of fun and excitement it had in its first volume, mainly because in that one Moore hit the nail squarely on the head with a collection of well-known, yet exotic, characters, and a nifty little puzzle for them and the readers to figure out. In later volumes, the lead characters have gotten more and more obscure, and that’s made elements of the series less interesting to people who don’t want to go to great lengths to figure out who these people are, or who don’t have any particular interest in the characters. (In other words, Carnacki, Raffles and Orlando don’t have quite the cachet of Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo and the Invisible Man) Century: 1910 has the additional problem that it’s just the first part of a three-part story, so it sets up both an over-arching threat, and what will presumably be a significant new character (Nemo’s daughter), but ultimately it’s all set-up. But with the last two chapters taking place in 1969 and 2009, I wonder what it’s going to be set-up for Certainly if Janni and the wizard aren’t major components, it will really diminsh the impact of this volume.

Overall, the story so far works much better than almost all of The Black Dossier did, with more little details that are interesting in and of themselves (such as “the prisoner of London”, which obviously will be showing up again). Also, Kevin O’Neill outdoes himself on the artwork, his characters having more fluidity and a wider variety of facial expressions than he’s employed in the past. While I’ve always appreciated O’Neill’s art for what it was, it’s great to see him evolving it.

I’m hopeful that Century will be a good, solid story when it’s all told. The first volume is encouraging, and I look forward to the rest of it.