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This Week's Haul

  • Green Lantern #60, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Keith Champagne (DC)
  • Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #5, by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin & Cam Smith (DC)
  • Time Masters: Vanishing Point #5 of 6, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • The Unwritten #20, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula #2 of 6, by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Captain America: Man Out of Time #2 of 5, by Mark Waid, Jorge Molina & Karl Kesel (Marvel)
  • Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Collection vol 4, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • Mouse Guard: The Black Axe #1 of 6, by David Petersen (Archaia)
  • Next Men #1, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science #2 of 5, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
The latest hardcover collection of Powers is out, and it’s a big one, collecting the first eighteen issues of the second series. It’s actually a reasonable jumping-on point for the series, but, you know, why “jump on” with a $35 hardcover collection when you can either buy the first such volume, or just buy the currently-ongoing third series in single-issue form?

That aside, the second volume of the series is much more ambitious, and much darker, than the first. Writer Brian Michael Bendis doesn’t spell out such details, but clearly several years have passed since the first issue of the first series. The events of “The Sellouts” have led the United States to outlaw the use of powers, and require people who have them to register them. As you might expect, this means that supervillains go to town (because why should they care of their powers are outlawed), and law enforcement is badly outgunned since all the heroes have retired to comply with the law. The city of Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim is being divided up by three crime lords.

This volume is intense: Deena gets captured by one of the crime lords, leading to a huge and unwelcome change in her life. Walker discovers that a girl he’s taken under his wing since her parents were killed has powers – very surprising powers. Becoming her mentor, she leads other heroes to reconsider their decision to retire. And the case of a man killed by a flying man leads to a big change in Walker’s life. This volume of Powers is about secrets, people who keep them, people who learn about them, and what people do to keep them hidden or when they’re revealed. It remains true to its noir-detective roots, while expanding the cast and setting and raising the stakes.

The second series is basically one long story, and it’s really excellent. Thumbing through this made me go back and read the conclusion again. I recommend it highly, as taken as a whole it’s probably the best thing Bendis has ever written.

Oh yeah, and Michael Avon Oeming’s art is quite good, too. I admire how he takes the animation-style simplicity he works with and adapts it to a very sophisticated and not-at-all-for-kids story. The incongruity has long since passed, and now it’s just very good artwork in support of a very good story – and that’s a very good thing.

After a 4-issue fill-in series of short stories by other creators, David Petersen’s back with a new Mouse Guard series, The Black Axe. The title character was introduced in the second series as the nigh-legendary champion of mousekind. As this series starts 37 years before the previous series, I think we’re seeing the Black Axe of that series being born, or maybe a broader exploration of his legend. I’m not sure.

Sometimes I get a little frustrated with the pace of the series, as there seem to be so many tantalizing details of mouse culture and history, which only get parceled out a tiny bit at a time. But it’s still a fun series, and Petersen’s artwork is lovely, worth the price of admission by itself.

After a long, long wait, John Byrne has returned to his creator-owned project of the 1990s, Next Men. The first series ran for 31 issues (more or less), and IDW has collected the series in recent years in both black-and-white paperback volumes, and a set of three color hardcover volumes. (Strangely, the first volume is a smaller form factor then the other two; wonder what idiot at IDW came up with that bright idea? But anyway.)

This new series picks up after the rather abrupt end of the first one, and includes an 8-page recap of what’s gone before, so you can just jump on here, although I do recommend the earlier series, as it’s excellent. But to put it briefly: The Next Men are five people engineered by a secret government project to give them super powers. Following various adventures in the modern day – during which one of then left the group to join a religious clan – they’ve apparently been pulled back to prehistoric times, where one of them is having lucid dreams involving different twists on their previous exploits, and two of them have disappeared. And from the last page and the cover of next issue, it looks like this series is going to involve a heavy dose of time travel, into the past, which would be rather the flip side of the first issue which involved time travel from the future.

The first Next Men series took quite a while to develop, whereas Byrne seems to be trying to hook the reader with the cool stuff up front, and that’s probably a good idea. But I expect there will be plenty of twists and turns while Byrne pilots the story to its ultimate conclusion.

The first Next Men series also fell at a time when Byrne was experimenting with his art style quite a bit, and the art in the series changed and evolved in pretty substantial ways during its run (not all of it working for me; in particular some of his characters’ faces and expressions looks kind of weird in the middle of the run). But Byrne’s style has remained largely the same for the last decade or so, so I expect we’ll see more consistency this time around. While I’m among those who preferred his style in the 70s and early 80s to his newer style, he’s still a very good, very imaginative artist, and working at IDW seems to have reenergized him as a comics creator overall (as I’ve said before, his Star Trek work for them has been a lot of fun).

All-in-all, while I personally could have done without the big story recap in the middle, I understand why it’s there, and this first issue is very promising. I’m very much looking forward to more.

(By the way, the John Byrne forum has a FAQ about Next Men and the new series.)

This Week's Haul

Two weeks worth of books this time, since I didn’t get around to doing an entry last week before heading to Disneyland for the weekend.

Last Week:

  • The Marvels Project #4 of 8, by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • Nova #32, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • Echo #17, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • The Secret History #7 of 7, by Jean-Pierre Pécau & Igor Kordey (Archaia)
  • Absolution #4 of 6, by Christos Gage & Roberto Viacava (Avatar)
  • The Boys #37, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)

I skipped JSA: All-Stars, not just because I didn’t really care about following “Power Girl and the third-stringers”, but because the artwork looked pretty awful. I’ll stick with the team which at least has a few of the classic members, thanks.

This Week:

  • Booster Gold #27, by Dan Jurgens, Mike Norton & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Doom Patrol #5, by Keith Giffen, Justiniano & Livesay, and J.M. DeMatteis, Tim Levins & Dan Davis (DC)
  • R.E.B.E.L.S. #11, by Tony Bedard, Claude St. Aubin & Scott Hanna (DC)
  • Secret Six #16, by Gail Simone, Peter Nguyen, Doug Hazlewood & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • The Unwritten #8, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Collection vol 3, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #4, by John Arcudi & Peter Snejbjerg (Dark Horse)
  • Phonogram: The Singles Club #6 of 7, by Keiron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie, and P.J. Holden & Adam Cadwell (Image)
The Secret History book 7 I started picking up The Secret History back before I knew it was a translation of a European comic that Archaia was printing. It got off to a pretty good start, though (albeit way back in 2007). As the title says, the story is a shadow history in which four individuals gain immortality and great powers through runestones they acquire early in humanity’s history, and they use it to influence events over the centuries, eventually warring against each other, forming and breaking alliances, and often using catspaws to do their work.

The early issues held together pretty well, but as the series progressed the overall story became very hard to follow, and even single issues were pretty confusing in terms of figuring out who’s who and what they’re up to and why. Greg Burgas has the series sized up well, as at the end of this 7-issue series the story isn’t over. It ends abruptly, actually on something of a cliffhanger, at the end of World War I. That left me wondering why I’d bothered; there wasn’t a big finish, and I just felt like I didn’t care about any of the characters by the end – I could barely tell who they were!

The art is often quite good, but it’s not enough to make up for the story. I can’t fault author Pécau for the ambitious plot, but the execution just didn’t work for me. Even if there is a follow-up series (and I haven’t heard of one), I’m not interested enough to follow it.

Doom Patrol #5

R.E.B.E.L.S. #11

I decided to pick up this month’s Doom Patrol and R.E.B.E.L.S. to see how the Blackest Night tie-in stories begun last week shake out. The answer is: Not so well, as both are essentially big slugfests against overwhelming odds, with the heroes more-or-less cheating their way to victory. Heck, they even find the exact same resolution to their dilemma in each case! Disappointing. The most interesting element of either series – Vril Dox acquiring a Sinestro Corps ring – is discarded at the end of the R.E.B.E.L.S. issue, too. Oh well.

I’m not interested enough in either Adventure Comics or Justice League to even pick up the second part of those tie-in stories. (If Adventure had had a Legion of Super-Heroes back-up in the second part, I might have given in. But instead it has Superboy-Prime – whom I hate, as I’ve said before – in the lead story, and the Connor Kent Superboy in the backup. Whatever.)

Considering Blackest Night presented some of these series with excellent opportunities to convince new readers like me that they were worth following, it’s pretty lame that they all did such a bad job in doing so, focusing instead on the Blackest Night story arc rather than trying to sell themselves on their merits. I assume this is just a total editorial misfire, although Booster Gold does a better job than the others of presenting its merits within its own Blackest Night tie-in. Then again, I already read Booster Gold regularly.

Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Collection vol 3 The third hardcover collection of Powers is out this week, and in my opinion it contains the two best stories of this excellent series: “The Sellouts” focuses on a Justice League-like team which went commercial, and then (unofficially) broke up. When the Batman-like member is killed (on camera, his killer not appearing on the tape), detectives Walker and Pilgrim investigate, and air all the dirty laundry the team’s kept under wraps for years. Rather to the displeasure of some members of the team. For what starts as a rather routine detective story for this series, it takes a sharp turn at the end which makes it both a very different story, and one which fundamentally changes the nature of the Powers world (setting up the next series, to some extent).

“Forever” is the other arc in the volume, and it was in a way an epilogue to the first Powers series, but it’s also a crucial piece in the overall story: It fills out the background of Detective Christian Walker, who it turns out is more than merely a de-powered superhero who became a cop. But there hadn’t been much sign of this until this story. In other circumstances, that might sound unsatisfying, but Bendis uses the premise to craft an a story which both defines the nature of superheroes in the Powers universe, and to make Walker a more significant and more tragic figure than he’d been before.

While Powers is best read from the beginning, you can read this volume on its own if you’d like to try it by starting with the very best the series has to offer. In any event, with the third Powers series having started a few weeks ago, this is a good point to catch up on what’s happened before so you can fully enjoy the new one.

This Week's Haul

In addition to the usual comics, this week fans of superhero noir can buy the collected Incognito by Brubaker & Phillips, and fans of Alan Moore can pick up the second volume of Saga of the Swamp Thing in hardcover (containing perhaps the single best issue of that series, when Swampy descends into hell to rescue his love’s soul). Both recommended.

  • Blackest Night #5 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Green Lantern #48, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • Justice League of America #39, by James Robinson, Mark Bagley & Rob Hunter (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #33, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #17, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (DC/Vertigo)
  • Saga of the Swamp Thing book two HC, by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette & John Totleben, with Shawn McManus, Ron Randall, Bernie Wrightson, Rick Veitch & Alfredo Alcala (DC)
  • Fantastic Four #573, by Jonathan Hickman, Neil Edwards & Andrew Currie (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #20, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker & Victor Olazaba (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #138, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
  • Immortal Weapons #5 of 5, by David Lapham & Arturo Lozzi, and Duane Swierczynski & Hatuey Diaz (Marvel)
  • Criminal: The Sinners #2, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Incognito TPB, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Powers volume 3 #1, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
Justice League of America #39 This is the last week for the Blackest Night ring-giveaway tie-ins, and the last comic I’ve picked up for it that I don’t regularly buy is Justice League of America. This series was launched after the cancellation of JLA (the one best known for Grant Morrison’s run, but which ran for another 6 years or so after he left), and has been rather controversial due to musical writers, and more-provocative-than-usual drawings of the heroines (you’d think this wouldn’t be a big surprise, but apparently it was pretty bad). The current creative team consister of Mark Bagley, one of the fastest artists in the business and in some ways a throwback to the superhero artists of yesteryear, and James Robinson, best known for his great Starman series of the 90s, but who has himself been generating some controversy in his Justice League: Cry For Justice mini-series. This, along with a rotating cast, has kept me far, far away from the JLA in recent years.

This Blackest Night issue is a horrible introduction to the series for new readers coming in via the tie-in. It focuses on a group of third-string Leaguers (Red Tornado – the original third-stringer, Plastic Man, Gypsy, Vixen, Dr. Light and Zatanna) entering the decimated Hall of Justice (yes, the JLA is now headquartered in the building from the Super Friends TV series; gah), and facing the zombie villains and heroes who were entombed in the basement of the JLA’s headquarters. Zatanna’s father Zatara is among the zombies, as is Vibe, the much-loathed member of “Justice League Detroit” from the 80s. It’s all a big fight against insurmountable odds in a shadowy setting, and as such seems completely meaningless.

This may be the worst Blackest Night tie-in I’ve read, as it reduces the series – whose premise got tiresome pretty quickly anyway – to its lowest common denominator. Bagley’s art is okay, although his style has veered towards being more cartoony than I prefer. But certainly this doesn’t give me any reason to keep reading the series after this issue. Awful.

Fantastic Four #573 Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s run on Fantastic Four seemed to be largely overlooked critically, and didn’t really help the sales of the series. But for all that Millar is a big-name comics writer (even though his writing is 180 degrees away from what I enjoy), it’s been his successor, Jonathan Hickman, whose run – now all of 4 issues old – has been getting the word of mouth. Indeed, when I decided a couple of weeks ago to check it out, I found his first two issues, but his third issue was sold out at my usual store, and at the next store I went to, and had only one copy remaining at the third store. Honestly I’d never even heard of Hickman before, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In the text page of last month’s issue, #572, Hickman makes an insightful observation:

Well, one of the biggest perceived problems I see is it’s not perceived as a book about the Fantastic Four anymore. I think, because of all the tent-pole events Marvel has been doing, and how integral to their story Mr. Fantastic has been, the book – heck, the entire FF universe – has become, by inclusion of exclusion, completely Reed-centric… almost like it’s Mr. Richards and his merry band of heroes.

I think this is spot-on: By virtue of his leadership skills and brilliant mind, Reed has always had a tendency to overwhelm everyone else. For many years, writers would take various tacks to either make the other three characters more prominent (the Thing and Human Torch’s larger-than-life personalities, John Byrne making the Invisible Woman more capable and showing his truly powerful her abilities could be), or by crippling Reed in some way (moving him off the stage for a while, making him depressed or cursed by self-doubt or playing up his problems relating to normal humans), and it worked to a greater or lesser degree. (To be fair, my clinical descriptions of how the writers handled the team dynamics don’t do justice to the actual stories, which are often quite entertaining. I’m just sayin’.) Anyway, Millar’s run was just the apex of the long-term move towards making Reed’s intellect truly world-changing, practically rendering his teammates superfluous. The first two stories in Millar’s run (which I’ve read in paperback form) focus on world-changing intellects as great as Reed’s, so any true solution to their challenges have to come from Reed himself, with his teammates being just the muscle to get the job done. Millar loves to play with world-changing intellects in his characters, but I find his portrayals of them to be grim and depressing, and considering the FF have at their best been first-and-foremost an adventure magazine, rooted in the Doc Savage pulp tradition, the book ends up not seeming like the FF.

So Hickman seems intent on pulling back from all that, and ironically he starts his run with a 3-part story focusing on Reed (the irony of which he acknowledges in the aforementioned text page), followed by this month’s issue, in which Ben and Johnny travel to Nu-World (a duplicate Earth) to deal with the long-term ramifications of one of the stories from Millar’s run, and in which we learn that Reed and Sue’s daughter Valeria is smarter than Reed himself, albeit keeping that mostly to herself.

Hickman has set himself a big challenge in trying to rework the team into a team. The Reed story is actually pretty effective in helping ground Reed in his family by showing him how his life could go if he’s not careful, and in showing him in flashback as a child interacting with his father. It’s a first step, but a good one. This issue is less effective, as the notion that Valeria is that smart is just nuts (contrasting her with Franklin being rather, well, childish – despite having been shown as mature for his age in years past – is also annoying). While I can’t fault Hickman trying to tie up loose ends from Millar’s run, I rather wonder if he’d have gotten more mileage out of just ignoring those loose ends altogether.

As a set, these four issues are not a bad start to a run, but I think Hickman’s taking it maybe a little too slow to get the FF to where he wants them to be. Maybe I’m just impatient.

Artwise, Dale Eaglesham is the regular artist on the series, and his work has improved since he pencilled Justice Society of America for DC. #573 has fill-in art by Neil Edwards and Andrew Currie. I haven’t seen Edwards’ work before, but his layouts and pencils here seem like a dead ringer for Bryan Hitch’s work. That’s not a bad thing (especially if you’re a Hitch fan), but it is a little creepy. Still, you have nothing to worry about as far as the art goes; I think these guys are up to drawing anything Hickman can give them.

By the way, the cover to the left has absolutely nothing to do with the contents of the story. I assume this was intentional, since Ben, Johnny, Franklin and Valeria were going to Nu-World on a vacation, but the trip turns out rather differently than planned, so I suspect the cover is intended to make the reader surprised by where the story goes. It’s dirty pool, though; lying about the contents is almost worse than having a generic cover which doesn’t mean anything. Nice try, though.

Powers #1 I have not been a fan of Brian Michael Bendis’ series in the Marvel Universe, but I am quite a fan of his series Powers, drawn by Michael Avon Oeming. The series’ original premise was a couple of beat cops who investigate crimes involving super-powers. The series evolved considerably through its first two runs, as we learn that detective Christian Walker used to be a hero himself before he lost his powers (and his background is very unusual indeed). Then the United States outlawed the use of powers. But then Walker gained new powers as the cosmic defender of Earth (a fact he keeps secret), and his partner, Deena Pilgrim, gained rather darker powers through a virulent drug going around the city. The second series resolved quite a few things in rather satisfying manner, and then the series went on hiatus. If that had been the end of it, it was a good note to go out on. Happily, the series has been relaunched with its third #1 issue this week.

This issue gets back to the series’ cop-detective roots, as Walker and his new partner, Enki Sunrise (no, really), investigate the death of an old man whom Walker seems to remember from a different era in his life. Walker and Sunrise have an uneasy relationship (other cops aren’t too fond of them either), but it’s nice to see that Walker seems more sure of himself these days than back when the series began; he’s really developed as a character (which is saying something, considering his background).

In many ways Powers is the original superhero noir series of the current era, and this issue looks like a good jumping-on point for people who haven’t read the earlier stories (although all of them have been collected in paperback – and many in hardcover). So if this sounds like your kind of thing, then definitely check it out. It’s good.

This Week’s Haul

Some really good stuff this week:

Powers vol 12: The 25 Coolest Dead Superheroes of All Time The latest volume of Powers has one downside: The title. “The 25 Coolest Dead Superheroes of All Time” may be a cute little joke – which is how it’s used in the story – but it’s a terrible title for this volume.

The reason it’s a terrible title is that this is one of the best volumes in the Powers series, which is the culmination of 30 issues of storytelling.

There’s a virus on the streets giving people powers, but leaving many of them ending up dead, too. Detective Deena Pilgrim was infected a while ago – a bad thing since having powers is illegal unless you register them – and ha run away from the force to try to stop the people responsible for and profiting off the virus. Her former partner, Christian Walker, used to be a superhero before he lost his powers, but he recently gained now powers, but only for fighting cosmic threats to Earth. And having powers is illegal, right? He’s also trying to find who’s responsible for the disease.

Pilgrim is in her own private purgatory and has been pushed about as far down as she can go, while Walker’s new partner is charged by internal affairs with finding out things about the both of them. It’s an ugly situation, and it all comes down to a big roll-of-the-dice which puts everyone at risk. And as a story it works out wonderfully. How it works out for the characters… you’ll want to read for yourself.

This volume is some of Bendis’ best writing ever, with some particularly poignant statements to make about what it means to have powers. Other than the title, if the book has a downside, it’s the sad fact that the series comes out so rarely while Bendis is writing mainstream books for Marvel. Not that I begrudge him the success he’s had in that vein (even if those titles aren’t my cup of tea), but Powers will be the book people remember 30 years from now, and much like Kurt Busiek’s series Astro City, it’s too bad we don’t get more of it.

Still, we should be grateful for what we do get.

Star Trek: Crew #1 John Byrne’s last Star Trek-related series, Assignment: Earth, was rather a bust, as it was five standalone stories which didn’t really give us any insight into the characters or ultimately go anywhere. Nonetheless I decided to give his new series, Crew a try, and from the first issue it’s 100% better.

Apparently it’s going to focus on Number One, the first office of Captain Christopher Pike in the original Trek pilot, “The Cage”, and who was portrayed by Majel Barrett. This first issue takes place on the shakedown cruise of the USS Enterprise before it was commissioned; Number One – who was never named in the pilot and isn’t named here – is a cadet assigned to help with the cruise, and who engineers the saving of the ship from an enemy plot. The plot isn’t especially sophisticated, but Byrne nails the look of Starfleet and makes the characters and situation compelling enough to make it one of the better one-issue stories I’ve read recently.

If the rest of the series is this good, it ought to be a lot of fun indeed.

Invincible #60 A whirlwind year of Invincible wraps up with “The Invincible War”, a double-sized issue in which reality-hopping villain Angstrom Levy sends 20 evil counterparts of Invincible from parallel Earths to our hero’s own world to conquer it and humiliate him. It doesn’t work, of course, but 20 Invincibles manage to beat down the whole roster of heroes from the Image universe before they’re stopped.

This issue is like the series in microcosm: Inventive writing and artwork, hard-hitting situations and visuals (yes, there’s blood and gore), and life-altering events happening to series regulars – not to mention the rest of the world. – and despite being a single-issue story, it both picks up threads from earlier issues and sets up elements for future issues. Invincible is like a television drama which alters the status quo regularly. While its sensibilities are too modern to truly compare it to monthly comics of decades past, that’s what I often think of when I read it: Kirkman and Ottley are having fun pulling out all the stops and moving pieces around every month, and while it’s not ‘good clean fun’, it is a great ride. I’m not sure why it took me so long to discover this comic, but I sure am glad I have.

This issue has a double-foldout-wraparound cover – when was the last time you saw one of those? – by series artist Ryan Ottley, and you can see it in its entirety here.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #21, by David Hine, Doug Braithwaite & Bill Reinhold (DC)
  • Green Lantern #37, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #2 of 2, by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Tom Nguyen, Drew Geraci & Derek Fridolfs (DC)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #11 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Carlos Magno & Julio Ferreira, and Ron Marz, Andie Tong & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Astonishing X-Men #29, by Warren Ellis & Simone Bianchi (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #9, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker, Carlos Magno, Victor Olazaba & Jack Purcell (Marvel)
  • Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Edition vol 2 HC, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #2 Superman Beyond is one of those rare Final Crisis spin-offs which actually ties in to the main series, in that something that happens in it actually happens in the main series, too. Unfortunately, that “something” is Superman leaving Earth for his adventure in this series, and otherwise this story doesn’t seem to have anything at all to do with Final Crisis as a whole – it’s just a quest for Superman to find something to save Lois Lane’s life. Indeed, the opening sequence of Final Crisis #6 seems to be Superman returning from his adventure in Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds (which is also running ridiculously late, as it looks like the last couple of issues will be published after Final Crisis is over). So why bother?

As Chris Sims points out, Superman Beyond plays with the idea of breaking the fourth wall, something writer Grant Morrison has done in his career before. But it’s actually one of the least successful elements of Morrison’s writing: The climax of his early series, Animal Man, features multiple breaks of the fourth wall, but never to any good effect; indeed, the extent to which the climax works (and how well it “works” is debatable; certainly it’s not as strong as the first 5 issues, and it really feels like a cop-out) involves the hero rejecting the idea of the fourth wall and embracing the fundamental nature of the reality from which he came. When it comes to breaking the fourth wall, Morrison’s efforts seem clumsy next to those of (say) Alan Moore, and they don’t really contribute to the story here: The nature of limbo, the land of forgotten characters, could have been replaced with any place of exile beyond the bounds of the known universe and it would have served the story as well.

Superman Beyond does have some good bits to it, mainly involving Superman and his counterparts from alternate Earths. But it’s also full of things that make basically no sense: Why are the Monitors vampires? Why is the “evil Monitor” (who’s saddled with the ridiculous name of Mandrakk) so evil? Could we have some motivation here? And what does any of this have to do with Final Crisis?

Superman Beyond mostly underscores Morrison’s ongoing transformation into a writer who writes for effect rather than purpose, with style but no substance (and the style isn’t all that stylish, either). It’s more fun than Final Crisis, mainly because it has a little bit of characterization and the heroes are likeable, and – thank goodness – it’s a lot shorter and less ponderous. But I can’t really recommend it, since fundamentally it’s a story without a point; it’s for hard-core Morrison fans only.

Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Collection vol 2 I’ve written a summary of Bendis & Oeming’s series Powers previously, and I don’t have a lot to add to the general overview I provided there. But I wanted to write a little something about this second volume of the “definitive” hardcover collection that came out this week.

It’s the middle of (I presume) three volumes collecting the first series of Powers, and while it’s overall the weakest of the three, it’s still got some strong stuff in it. The three stories include: Investigating the death of a Superman-type hero who turns out to have been having a lot of affairs (with women who creepily all look alike – the attention to detail really pays off in this series at times); Investigating the deaths of a team of corporate superheroes, with all the cynicism that the term “corporate superheroes” implies; And a group of anarchists who are killing current and former heroes to make some sort of point. The strength of the stories come from the exploration of detective Christian Walker’s former life as a hero, and his partner Deena Pilgrim’s maturation as a character. The two didn’t really like each other very much early on, but their relationship becomes a lot more interesting as time goes on.

The stories aren’t the strongest in the series mainly because the supporting characters mostly aren’t very interesting; they’re there to create situations for Walker and Pilgrim to end up in, so the stories feel a little manipulative, getting them where they need to be without having it come about organically. I think Bendis does the best that he can, but the build-up to the excellent stuff in the next volume feels artificial.

Still, as a whole Powers is a very good series, even if it’s being published less and less frequently these days. The definitive hardcovers are a pretty good way to read the whole series, although the trades are a good option, too.

This Week’s Haul

Welcome to the 52nd installment of This Week’s Haul! Wow, I’ve been at it for a whole year? Then it must be time to try out a slightly different format! I bet this works poorly in the syndication feed, though.

  • Booster Gold #3, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Countdown #29 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, Manual Garcia & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #2 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Nova #7, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Sean Chen, Scott Hanna & Brian Denham (Marvel)
  • Powers: Cosmic vol 10 TPB, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • The Clockwork Girl #1, by Sean O’Reilly, Kevin Hanna & Grant Bond (Arcana)
  • B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
Countdown #29 It’s all over the comics blogosphere that Countdown has been quite a muddle. Rich Johnston reported that the fur may be flying at DC editorial over the series’ sales (though of course Rich Johnston writes an admittedly-biased rumor column, so take it with a grain of salt). With the series nearly half-over, Countdown #29 amply illustrates the series’ muddled storytelling:

  • A generic “battle” cover which doesn’t occur in the book, featuring a plot thread which occupies a single page of the issue.
  • The introduction of some rather nasty supporting characters, who will apparently be the protagonists of an upcoming series – but who cares? (I guess they’ve appeared before, but I still don’t care.)
  • Half the issue is spent on four of the separate storylines, not really advancing any of them. (Graeme McMillan notes that he skipped two issues and didn’t really miss anything.)
  • A minor supporting character, the Jokester, who joined the world-traveling crew a few issues ago, is unceremoniously killed off for no good reason.
  • And it’s still not at all clear why we’re bothering with all this world-hopping in the first place, since it’s been just one random encounter after another.

It all comes down to writing: It’s just not good. There’s no sense of where the story is going (any of the stories), or even if it’s indeed going anywhere.. This is just the opposite of 52 which set up mysteries and adventures, and steadily resolved them. Not every plot thread worked, but as a whole it was entertaining. Countdown is just a messy assortment of stuff. The problem isn’t that the creators aren’t big names, it’s that there’s no direction, and no focus. I suspect this is either due to authorial mastermind Paul Dini not having come up with a good enough framework for the series, or else due to poor editorial direction.

Nova #7 Although I enjoy Nova, issue #7 ends up being rather a big nothing: Nova throws off the yoke of the Phalanx in somewhat-predictable fashion, escapes… and apparently isn’t going to have any substantial impact on the Annihilation Conquest story. So it ends up being rather pointless. Plus the cover is bland (although nicely rendered). It’s the first big misfire for either this series or the Annihiliation Conquest event, which is a pity since they’ve both been quite good before this point.

(It’s slightly disturbing that Chen is already being spelled by a fill-in artist for parts of the issues, though it helps that I hardly notice when the pages alternate between Chen and Denham while I’m actually reading the comic. Chen is a terrific artist – I first picked up Nova mainly because he’s on it – so I guess this means Denham’s pretty good, too. I hope Chen isn’t planning on leaving the book, though.)

Powers: Cosmic vol 10 TPB On a brighter note, Powers is the magnum opus of Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming. I’ve not been able to warm to either of their works other than this one, but Powers is really good: The ongoing story of two cops who work cases related to superheroes and supervillains, it ran for three years with Image Comics and then moved to Marvel’s Icon imprint. The first series revealed that Christian Walker used to be a hero, until he lost his powers, and then a superhero-created disaster resulted in powers being outlawed in the U.S. This new series ups the stakes as both Christian and his partner Deena Pilgrim get forced into increasingly risky scenarios, partly through choice and partly through circumstance. This latest volume, Cosmic, opens with the death of an unknown – but immensely powerful – hero, and the consequences that his death has for Christian.

Bendis’ hallmark as a writer is that he writes copious dialogue. His characters tend to be smartasses, often foul-mouthed and philosophical at the same time. In my opinion, his style doesn’t work at all when he writes for mainstream Marvel comic books, but it works fine in his own world, with its gritty and grimy settings and populace. Oeming’s relatively simple linework seems cartoony at first glance, but it actually works quite well with Bendis’ scripts, conveying the weight of the situations while still leaving room for the gleaming, four-color-style linework for the heroes; in other words, balancing the dark realism with the superpowered sense of awe. Weaving between the two extremes is what makes the book work – that and Bendis’ unflinching ability to keep raising the stakes for his protagonists while still keeping them grounded in their day-to-day jobs.

(My biggest regret about the second series is that Deena’s sunny, smartass personality has been fading under the weight of her burdens. On the other hand, it seems that Deena and Christian are on opposite trajectories in their respective stories, so no doubt this is all deliberate.)

Powers can be brutal and bloody at times, so it’s not for the squeamish. It is, however, well worth following for anyone who appreciates deconstructive approaches to the superhero genre.

(Although this is a good volume, if you haven’t read it before then you’re better off starting at the beginning, or at least the start of the second series.)

The Clockwork Girl #1 I reviewed the preview issue of The Clockwork Girl a few months ago, and the first full issue is pretty much what I expected, feeling very much like the opening act of a Disney film (which, y’know, isn’t always a bad thing). It features a young mechanical girl being unveiled to the public by her mad-scientist father, and her attracting the eye of a young wolf-boy created by a different scientist. The art is dynamic and polished. The cover is very neat, too, with an “Alice-in-Wonderland-but-not-really” feel to it. There’s every reason to think that this could be a good, all-ages read. Worth seeking out.