Actually two week’s worth of comics, since I didn’t pick them up while I was on vacation. This includes Marvel’s notoriously large shipment from that week:
- Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three #3 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
- Batman and Robin #2, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)
- Green Lantern #42, by Geoff Johns, Philip Tan, Eddy Barrow, Jonathan Glapion & Ruy JosÃ© (DC)
- Justice Society of America #28, by Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
- The Literals #3, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
- Madame Xanadu #12, by Matt Wagner & Michael Wm. Kaluta (DC/Vertigo)
- Astonishing X-Men #30, by Warren Ellis & Simone Bianchi (Marvel)
- Avengers/Invaders #12 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Steve Sadowski & Jack Herbert (Marvel)
- Guardians of the Galaxy #15, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker, Victor Olazaba & Livesay (Marvel)
- The Incredible Hercules #130, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Ryan Stegman, Rodney Buchemi & Terry Pallot (Marvel)
- The Immortal Iron Fist #27, by Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman, David Lapham & Timothy Green II (Marvel)
- Nova #26, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
- War of Kings #5 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
- Echo #13, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
- Irredeemable #4, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
- Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder #1 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Ben Stenbeck & Dave Stewart (Dark Horse)
- The Boys #32, by Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra (Dynamite)
- Prince Valiant: 1937-1938 vol 1 HC, by Hal Foster (Fantagraphics)
The interesting thing about Green Lantern #42 – which wraps up the “Agent Orange” story before we launch into “Blackest Night” – is that it so baldly demonstrates how machiavellian the Guardians of the Universe have become. The Guardians started off as mysterious and withdrawn arbiters of justice, and over the years have become less and less sympathetic, pursuing their own agendas, answering to nobody (least of all their own Green Lantern Corps), and making decisions humans would consider questionable.
In “Agent Orange”, a group of Lanterns confronts Larfleeze, the keeper of the orange light, an obsessive collector who desires the blue ring that Hal Jordan has acquired. (For those keeping score at home the lights we’ve seen so far include green for will, yellow for fear, magenta for love, blue for hope, and orange for avarice.) Hal manages to hold him off until the Guardians – Larfleeze’s old enemies – show up and make peace with him by giving him something he wants. What he wants is a blue ring, so they tell him where the two renegade Guardians who are forming the blue corps are hiding, and he attacks them. Yes, the Guardians essentially threw two of their own under the bus to build a treaty with this insane creature. Hal doesn’t know what exactly they gave him, but he knows it can’t be a good thing, whatever it is.
I wonder where Johns is going with all this – and I wonder it in a good way. Are we heading towards an eventual rebellion of the Lanterns towards the Guardians? Is something going on with the Guardians to make them so nasty? It’s hard to see how this status quo can hold without the heroes becoming complicit in the questionable actions of their bosses. Yet it’s also a fascinating romp through the relationships among the powerful beings that inhabit DC’s outer space milieu. Good stuff.
Well thank the powers that be that that’s over.
The Literals #3 wraps up “The Great Fables Crossover”, which has been so horribly written that it actually made me consider giving up on Fables altogether. The premise is that Kevin Thorn has the power to rewrite reality, and he’s decided that our reality has worn out its welcome, so he’s going to wipe it out and create a new one. He kills his brother, Writer’s Block, and stops his father, his son, and several other characters from interfering, spending eight issues eventually getting around to taking action – before the heroes get to him and do, indeed, stop him.
There was maybe three issues of story here, stretched out to nine issues. The rest of the space is filled with plenty of Jack of Fables’ annoying antics (reminding me why I dropped his book in the first place – I can’t stand reading about him), introducing a new character (Jack Frost, the other Jack’s son), and stretching out Kevin’s efforts to overcome Writer’s Block and other minor obstacles as far as possible.
And honestly I just didn’t give a damn about any of it, especially since most of the setup appeared to revolve around the Jack of Fables supporting cast, and having nothing at all to do with the ongoing story in Fables itself.
The Literals appears to have been created specifically to play out this crossover story, featuring several character who represent various elements of literature (individual genres, as well as more abstract elements). It looks like this was the last issue of the series, which is something of a mercy: While these characters are interesting ideas in the abstract, this story has been the worst possible manner in which to launch a new series.
Honestly I’m not sure what Willingham and Sturges were thinking here. The whole thing was badly conceived, badly written, and unrewarding, a strong contender for the award of worst comics story I’ve read this year. I hope Fables gets back on track next issue and we can all forget that “The Great Fables Crossover” ever happened.
Avengers/Invaders has been perhaps the best of the Alex Ross/Jim Krueger collaborations. Unfortunately, that doesn’t set the bar very high, so this 12-issue series has been merely “okay”.
I’m not sure exactly what it is, but every Ross/Krueger book I’ve read has been ponderously paced, striving to be thoughtful but instead being merely dull. I don’t know whether this is a fundamental flaw in Ross’ approach to plotting, or if Krueger brings out the worst in his storytelling, but either way Earth X, Project Superpowers and this one have all been pretty tedious.
What elevates this series above the others is that it seems more tightly focused (even though it’s told in three discrete four-issue segments), having a clear direction and a reasonable resolution at each stage of the way. The other books seemed to get bogged down in their ambition, losing sight of what they were doing and ultimately just being unsatisfying both to read and to have read. A/I also has more action and some sympathetic characters, from tragic World War II soldier Paul Anselm who is thrown into the present along with the Invaders and who causes the problems they’re trying to resolve in this third chapter, to the two Captains America, the first of whom is currently dead in modern times, and the second of whom is his partner Bucky, who is one of the Invaders thrown forward in time. The cast is way too large to give everyone equal time – most of the Avengers are merely troops supporting the main characters – but the focus on the main figures, especially the Invaders, makes the story work well enough.
Unfortunately, the story isn’t really very original: We have Ultron again, the Red Skull controlling the Cosmic Cube again, characters from the past viewing elements of the present day as downright evil (a theme explored more brutally in the DC Two Thousand JLA/JSA story from 9 years ago). So the story has less of an impact than it might have since it feels largely rehashed.
Steve Sadowski’s artwork is pretty nifty, although I find his layouts to be a little confusing at times, and his action sequences to feel somewhat muted. I think he’s inking himself here, but a stronger inker might bring out his best elements more effectively. (His inks seem influenced by Tom Palmer, whose style worked best over a more dynamic penciller.)
Anyway, I don’t regret having read it, but Avengers/Invaders doesn’t make me optimistic that the Ross/Krueger tandem has turned the corner. And certainly I still have no interest in reading anymore of Project Superpowers.
The Immortal Iron Fist ends its run this week, although it’ll be followed by an Immortal Weapons mini-series, focusing on the Fist’s peer heroes from the other Seven Capital Cities of Heaven. (The preview of the first issue at the end of this issue looks pretty good.)
The series on the whole has been quite entertaining, and the switch from Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction and writers to Duane Swierczynski has barely been noticeable, as the style and quality hardly changed at all. The art has generally been strong, and the book’s strength of exploring the background of the Fist’s mystical city of K’un Lun has been intriguing and often exciting. If I have a criticism, it’s that the characterizations of Fist and his friends has been rather thin, so his personal struggles to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend Misty Knight, retain control of his company, and come to grips with getting older have felt superficial. I guess there’s just been too much stuff to pack into a regular-sized monthly comic to make the characters truly engaging.
(For example, this issue ends with a revelation in the Fist/Misty relationship, which is touching and makes his future a little more intriguing, but it feels like it comes out of left field.
Nonetheless, it’s been a fun ride, and I hope Iron Fist will be back after the interregnum of the mini-series. But if not, well, I’m sure he’ll be back sometime.
My choice for the greatest comic strip in history would be Hal Foster’s epic adventure strip Prince Valiant. And now Fantagraphics is reprinting the series in a series of spiffy, oversized hardcover collections, with the first volume out this week. And even though I own the whole 40-volume set of the Foster-drawn pages that Fantagraphics published in the 1990s, I’m perfectly happy to buy this new series, with larger pages, better-quality paper, and much better-quality coloring. The first volume covers the first two years, 1937-1938, and while the earliest episodes feel a little primitive by the standards of Foster’s tremendous skills, by the end of 1937 you can clearly see Foster getting his footing and developing into the artistic legend he’s become.
What makes Prince Valiant so great? After all, it’s about a fictional hero from Norway who’s exiled along with his father to the British isles during the age of the equally-fictional King Arthur (circa the 5th century). Val becomes a Knight of the Round Table and embarks on many adventures of varying plausibility, so in the large it sounds like pretty standard stuff.
Well, aside from Foster being one of the greatest pop artists of the 20th century, the story feels like nothing else in graphic storytelling: It’s told in narration rather than in the immediate action-and-dialogue style of comic books, yet it loses none of is impact. Foster conveys action and excitement without many of the conventions of superhero comics. And Val gradually grows up, matures, gets married, and has children during the course of the strip. In this volume he’s a young man of maybe 15 or 16 years of age, full of bluster and passion, yet still finding his place in the world. He’s clever, yet makes mistakes along the way and is often saved through dumb (sometimes tragic) luck. It’s an epic saga a little bit different from anything like it, and Foster’s dedication to his craft makes it better than even the notable stories by his not-inconsiderable peers (Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, etc.).
The next volume is announced for “spring of 2010”, so it looks like we’ll be getting 2 years worth of pages every 9 months or so, which will make for a pretty slow crawl to get to the strip’s apex in the 1950s. I think it will be worth it, though. It’s excellent stuff, and I look forward to enjoying it all over again.