This Week’s Haul

  • Batman and Robin #4, by Grant Morrison, Philip Tan & Jonathan Glapion (DC)
  • Blackest Night #3 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #27, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Ex Machina #45, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
  • JSA vs. Kobra #4 of 6, by Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • Hercules: Prince of Power HC, by Bob Layton (Marvel)
  • Wednesday Comics #11, by many hands (DC)
  • Unthinkable #5 of 5, by Mark Sable & Julian Totino Tedesco (Boom)
  • Star Trek: Romulans: Schism #1 of 5, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time #5 of 5, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
The Brave and the Bold #27 J. Michael Straczynski starts his long-awaited run on The Brave and the Bold this month. The comics blogosphere’s reaction to this assignment was basically, “Wait, DC signs one of the biggest names in comics and assigns him to a book whose sales were in a slump the last time big name creators were on it, and has been slogging along through limbo ever since?” B&B was thoroughly Mark Waid’s book, and honestly it should have been cancelled when he left it (although some of the interim stories have been decent). But why put Straczynski on it? Did he request it, to be able to have his own sandbox to play in? Who knows?

The story itself is merely okay. It features Batman and the extremely obscure character from the original Dial H For Hero, and it’s a thin story with a rather simplistic moral about doing something with one’s life.

I’ve written several times before about my criticisms of Straczynski’s comics work, as much as I loved Babylon 5, and this issue is towards the lower end of his comics work. If all he’s going to do in B&B is write a few unconnected stories, then I don’t think it’s going to be worth it. Meanwhile, we’ll see how well he keeps up with the schedule, inasmuch as Thor was consistently shipping late and The Twelve – perhaps his best comics work – seems to be on hiatus. And, more importantly, whether he has a plan for what to do with a series with such a scatterbrained premise.

Wednesday Comics #11 It’s a little hard to believe that Wednesday Comics is coming to an end after one more issue, given that some of the stories feel like they’re not even close to being done after this issue. Superman, even though it’s been a terrible story, feels like it’s about to turn into the second half of the story after the cliffhanger here. Supergirl has been much better, but with her facing down aliens as her super-pets arrive on the scene seems like it’s setting up for several more pages, too. And then there’s Hawkman, which has a climactic moment this page, but then Kyle Baker’s over-the-top writing in this story has featured a climactic moment every other page. But I don’t see how Baker’s going to pull together Hawkman, Aquaman, an alien invasion, and DInosaur Island together into a satisfying finish in one more page. Of course, the writing’s been on the wall for weeks that Hawkman would be a terrible story.

In other episodes, Strange Adventures has a neat touch in dealing with its villain this issue. And although I haven’t read Wonder Woman in weeks, this week’s page finally makes good use of the large-page format with a nice 2/3-page spread. Too bad I’ve long since stopped caring.

Next week we’ll see how things finish up, and I’ll revisit all of the stories in their totalities.

Hercules Prince of Power HC Among the most fun comics I can recall reading were Bob Layton’s two Hercules mini-series from back in the 80s. Hercules, the Greek demigod of myth, had returned to Earth and adventured with The Avengers for quite a few years; although a good guy, he also had a tendency to get drunk and pick fights, and – being a god – was able to shrug off the consequences of his actions much of the time, sometimes leaving a trail of carnage and/or sadness behind him. In short, having Hercules on Earth didn’t seem quite fair to everyone else.

Layton tackled this challenge in novel fashion: Hundreds of years in the future, Hercules angers his father Zeus – again – and Zeus exiles him, but this time he exiles him to outer space, where there are plenty of beings who are Hercules’ equal, or more. This helps Hercules gain perspective on his place in the universe, but Layton also uses it for a series of absolutely hilarious adventures. Accompanied by a Recorder, a robot charged with observing everything he does, Hercules wades through a series of entertaining adventures, before finding himself suddenly aging, and learning that things have recently gone quite poorly for the gods of Olympus, forcing him to return home before he dies of old age to find out what’s going on.

Although at times a moving drama, Layton never relinquishes his light touch on the material, and Hercules generally comes across as a nicer guy – and a more mature one – than the one currently appearing in The Incredible Hercules (although that series is not bad). And now that Marvel’s collected this in a handsome hardcover volume, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s a good time.

(It looks like Layton’s other Hercules-related stuff, including the sequel to these stories, will be collected in a second volume later this year.)

Unthinkable #5 Unthinkable was one of three series from Boom! Studios that piqued my interest this year, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as either Irredeemable or The Unknown. The premise was that author Alan Ripley joined a government think tank after September 11 to try to come up with other unlikely scenarios that terrorists might use to attack America or other countries. Which sounds fine until the think tank is disbanded and some of their scenarios come to pass.

It’s a nifty high concept, but a tough one to pull off, since it plays its premise largely straight, which means having to thread a needle to make it seem plausible in the face of, well, doing the impossible. Writer Mark Sable gives it a good try, but I don’t think he pulls it off; the ultimate story behind the unthinkable events feels a little too simplistic, really in much the same way the climax to Watchmen didn’t quite hold up. I guess when you’re being compared to Watchmen – even flaws in Watchmen – you’re doing something right, but still the story didn’t really work for me. A worthy try, though.

Artist Julian Totino Tedesco isn’t really my kind of artist; his sketchy linework over highly realistic layouts remind me of Jackson Guice, but darker. I think he could have used an inker with a strong sense of line coherence, a Tom Palmer sort, to pull the pencils together. But that’s just me.

Star Trek: Romulans: Schism #1 I’m not sure what to make of John Byrne’s Star Trek series for IDW. Assignment: Earth followed the adventures of Gary Seven and Roberta Franklin in the early 1970s, and then Crew followed the career of Number One prior to becoming Captain Pike’s first officer on the Enterprise. Now Romulans: Schism appears to involve the shaky Klingon/Romulan alliance circa the end of the classic Star Trek TV series (or maybe a couple of years after that, although not much later since Star Trek: The Motion Picture takes place at most 5 years after the end of the series, and the designs here are mostly classic Trek). Number One appears to be back, a little grayer, and the Commodore commanding a Constitution-class ship.

What’s confusing to me is that Byrne usually has a method to his madness, a larger story that the smaller ones fit into, but it’s awfully hard to see how these three series fit together. Assignment: Earth was a set of mildly entertaining short stories, but the characters and plots weren’t really all that exciting. Crew was considerably more entertaining, but seemed to end just as it was about to get really good. Now we’ve jumped forward to focus on the two main villainous races in classic Trek. So where’s it all going? Or is Byrne just content to tell a few independent short stories, and enjoy playing in the Trek universe on his terms? Maybe it’s not going anywhere.

On the bright side, Byrne captures the visuals of classic Trek perfectly; the thing looks beautiful. And Crew was a very well-told set of stories, while Romulans: Schism is off to a good, if rather ominous, start, with a solid cliffhanger at the end of this first issue. Despite being perplexed by Byrne’s ultimate goal – if there is one – this is some of the best Trek material I’ve read in decades, and that makes it worth the price on its own.

(Hmm, on further review, it looks like this might be a sequel to an earlier two-part Byrne story, The Hollow Crown, which I hadn’t heard of before. So apparently I’m missing at least one piece of the puzzle.)

Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time #5 I’ve been conflicted about Atomic Robo since it began. I appreciate the premise – Nikola Tesla creates a sentient robot who lives into the present day and fights big monsters – and also Brian Clevinger’s wacky sense of humor in setting up the situations and writing the dialogue. Of course, the parallels between Robo and Hellboy are obvious; Robo’s personality is a little more extroverted, but they’re both strong monster-fighters with flippant tongues. The problem is that while Mike Mignola’s stories for Hellboy can be a little erratic, each individual story holds together pretty well, and when the story trails off at the end, it’s usually evident that that’s what Mignola was going for. The first Robo mini-series was a collection of vaguely-linked short stories, and the second one purported to be a single story but scattered to the four winds at the end.

All that said, Shadow From Beyond Time is a solid step forward for Robo. It starts with Robo, Charles Fort, and H.P. Lovecraft in the 1920s fighting a Lovecraftian creature. The problem is that this creature comes from outside time, so Robo fights it over and over in the following years until it all comes to an end in this issue when he figures out a way to deal with it, and even loops back to the beginning to bring some closure to the first chapter of the story. It’s easily the best-told story in the series so far, and it makes me optimistic that things will keep getting better.

Which is good, because as amusing as Robo can be as a character, it’s difficult to get invested in a series which is largely told in retrospect, and whose setting (Robo’s team and organization at Tesladyne) is left, at best, fuzzy. Madcap adventure can only take you so far.

Star Trek: The Reboot

J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek film is sort of the anti-Battlestar Galactica. BSG took a fairly goofy old TV series and turned it into a serious adventure drama. Star Trek takes what was a serious adventure drama (well, for its time) and turns it into a goofy movie.

Myself, I’m an unreconstructed original series fan, and I happily enjoy those old episodes and the early movies while ignoring almost everything that followed. So I was just hoping for a good movie. Well, it’s got lots of action and plenty of humor, but it also self-consciously compares itself to the original series at every turn, and the story makes basically no sense, while blazing no new ground. So it was a rollicking ride, but ultimately it’s just another action film.

Spoilers ahoy!

Continue reading “Star Trek: The Reboot”

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

  • Action Comics #869, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC)
  • All-Star Superman #12 of 12, by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely & Jamie Grant (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #17, by Marv Wolfman & Phil Winslade (DC)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #8 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Wes Craig & Dan Davis, and Ron Marz, Andie Tong & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #5, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Astonishing X-Men #26, by Warren Ellis & Simone Bianchi (Marvel)
  • Castle Waiting #12, by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)
  • Star Trek: Assignment Earth #5 of 5, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • Pantheon: Welcome to the Machine vol 1 TPB, by Bill Willingham, Mike Leeke & Bill Williams (Lone Star)
  • Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #2 of 6, by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & Derrick Fish (Red 5)
All-Star Superman #12 All-Star Superman wraps up its run this week. It’s actually a good example of what I think the “All-Star” premise was intended for: A couple of big-name creators given the time and leeway to produce the best story featuring the character that they could. The book wasn’t monthly, but it shipped regularly, and fans looked forward to it. (By contrast, All-Star Batman seems to have received more bad critical attention than good, and I think it’s still not done, even though it started before Superman. I skipped it, since I see writer Frank Miller as little more than self-parody, these days.)

What did I think about it? Well, I thought it was very good, and occasionally excellent. I think it’s hands-down the best thing Grant Morrison has done over the last two years (though admittedly I think you have to go back to JLA to find his last really solid series). It uses (essentially) the pre-Crisis Superman, a figure of almost godlike power but deep connection and empathy with mankind, and explores the nooks and crannies of his friendships and backdrop, without getting wrapped up in continuity or going overboard with too many characters.

The story’s structure is based around the twelve labors of Hercules (although I don’t think the tasks in each issue correspond even loosely to those of Hercules), with the detail that in the first issue Lex Luthor manages to overwhelm Superman’s cells with a blast of energy from the sun, giving him additional powers but also dooming him to death within one year.

There are several excellent issues in the series, especially issue #5 in which Clark Kent interviews Lex Luthor in prison. (To be fair, this issue has a pretty bad pun near the end, which may be biased me in favor of it.) I also particularly liked #2, with Lois staying at the Fortress and seeing some of its wonders. On the other hand, stretching the Bizarro world story out to two parts (#7-8) felt like pushing it. Issue #9 with the two other survivors of Krypton seemed routine. And issue #10 features a number of running themes of the series, but also feels disjointed and like little more than a lead-in to the two-part conclusion.

This last issue is something of a mixed bag. The final confrontation with Luthor is quite good, but the scenes where Superman returns from the brink of death didn’t really make any sense. Morrison’s hallucinatory sequences tend to be among the least effective moments in his writing. He’s much stronger when he stays grounded in the concrete elements of the story. Consequently, the issue’s denouement has a weak moment – in which Superman goes off to “fix” the sun, with a Morrisonian flourish in which he’s building it a new heart, a concept which sounds good in words but seems ridiculous when illustrated – and a strong moment, when the scientist Leo Quintum answers the question of what the world would do if Superman didn’t come back. (Thus the series ends with one of its strongest visual images.)

I’m always conflicted when I see Frank Quitely’s artwork. In many ways it’s similar to that of Gary Frank: Both artists give a real sense of form and substance to their figures, but both artists tend to be weak on backgrounds, in that the backgrounds are often absent so they feel rather distracting when they’re present in a panel. Their characters also often have the same facial tics, which often works for Frank but which I find a minus for Quitely because his characters’ grimaces often make them look grotesque, even inhuman. Quitely’s female figures have this squashed look to their faces, and their bodies look weirdly deformed – and it’s consistent across the women, so it looks really weird. The best art I’ve seen from Quitely was in JLA: Earth 2; it seems like his style has been getting quirkier ever since then, and not, to my mind, for the better.

Overall, a good series. Not as strong as Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”, to which it has some similarities, although to be fair that’s a ludicrously high standard to hold any Superman tale to.

Star Trek: Assignment Earth #5 I had originally thought that John Byrne’s Assignment: Earth series was going to be 12 issues, with a loosely-connected overall story arc similar to that from Byrne & Roger Stern’s Marvel: The Lost Generation. I’m not sure why I thought that, since apparently it was always planned as a 5-issue series.

It ended up being 5 basically standalone stories, each one taking place a year later than the previous one. Unfortunately, all of the stories are fairly routine, the leap in time is never large enough to make much of a difference, and we never learn anything really deep about Gary Seven or Roberta. So it ends up being something of a shrug of a series. I think my favorite bit is actually the “back-up” story in this last issue, featuring Roberta and Isis; the lead story involves a double of Richard Nixon (as you can tell from the cover), and pales by comparison despite its longer length.

Pantheon vol 1: Welcome to the Machine Bill Willingham is probably best known in comics today as the writer of Fables, the DC/Vertigo book about legendary fantastic characters exiled to our world. And it’s a well-deserved reknown, since Fables is an excellent comic that I’ve been enjoying from the beginning. Back in the 1990s he was a lot less well-known, though; I mainly knew him from his 1980s series The Elementals, and his short-lived series Coventry. Somehow I stumbled upon issue #4 of Pantheon, a series Willingham was writing for Lone Star Press, and I was impressed enough to order the earlier issues and follow it through to its conclusion (it ran for 13 issues, with a few side stories along the way). Now the first half has been collected in paperback – and in color, as the original series was in B&W – with some extra material. The second volume is planned to come out next year.

Pantheon has a high concept premise: It’s another “last superhero story”, which is the same high concept as Watchmen, and which came into vogue later through (for instance) Marvel’s “The End” series of stories about its characters. In that way, it’s not very original, although that doesn’t really diminish the concept: Not only do readers enjoy reading the end of a story, but reading about the end of an era also has its own special charm (it’s the reason I regard The Lord of the Rings as a great story – the end of an era of wonders pervades every chapter of the book). And while Watchmen is about a particularly quirky world with an unusual assortment of heroes, Pantheon is about (essentially) any DC/Marvel-style superhero universe, with specific characters standing in for the trademarked ones. So we have the Freedom Machine standing in for the Justice League and Avengers, with Dynasty and Blackheart standing in for Superman and Batman, and various clear analogues throughout the rest of the roster.

What makes the series work – and what, frankly, is Willingham’s true strength as a writer – is that all of these characters are their own figures, they’re not merely pale shadows of the more famous ones. Dynasty is a woman, and her powers are somewhat tied to that fact. Blackheart is as obsessed as Batman, but he has his own particular quirks. Willingham takes ideals and creates new and memorable concrete characters out of them. You’d think every writer could do this, but somehow Willingham does it better than almost everyone else. I think this is part of why Fables works, too: Willingham tends to the details, and is able to bring them out to the point that they affect the big picture, too. (I think the evolution of Prince Charming is a good example of this.)

The premise of the story is that the heroes have defeated all of the major villains in the world, having either imprisoned, exiled or killed them. But what do the heroes do once their work is done? They split into two factions, one (led by Dynasty) which believes in staying ready but otherwise staying the course as defenders of humanity, and another (led by the telekinetic Daedalus) who thinks that superheroes should take over the world and guide it into a new golden age. Daedalus is cold and calculating, and believes that anyone not with him is against him (or might be), and takes terrible measures to prevent any aid from coming to his foes. He also releases four of the worst villains the Freedom Machine has imprisoned to keep them busy while he schemes. Most chilling is a flashback – which obviously is important since it spans two issues of the series, but it’s not immediately evident how – in which all the heroes gathered together in the 80s to fight a terrifying teenaged villain named Deathboy. This sets the tone for the series as being brutal in resolving the characters’ fates in high-pressure situations, although it never falls to the level of raw gore; it’s still rooted in the style of traditional superheroes.

For me, Pantheon had a “can’t-look-away” feel to it, with imaginative characters and scenarios which made me what to see how they turned out. Without giving too much away, the story completes its arc as intended, although I found it just a little bit disappointing for not going farther than it did, although with some bits left deliberately dangling at the end and left to the reader’s imagination. While I’d say Pantheon didn’t quite live up to its promise, it’s still a really good story and a must-read if you enjoy this sort of story, or just enjoy superhero stories with an unusual degree of imagination in them.

The art is by Mike Leeke and Bill Williams (Williams being the publisher of Lone Star), with the occasional artist doing a few pages, presumably when Leeke couldn’t keep up. Leeke has an interesting style, reminiscent of Steve Woron’s (although without the “good girl art” content), with a good sense of form, design, and expression, yet with some rough edges: Sometimes a head is too small, or a pose looks a little off. But overall he fits the series very well. And if you’ve wondered why I sometimes carp on artists who give backgrounds the short shrift, Leeke’s a good example of why: He draws detailed and solid backgrounds which provide a strong sense of setting. Even in a sequence in the Grand Canyon he puts plenty of rock formations in the background rather than just drawing shots of people standing on (or flying above) the ground. Although it looks like he did some work for Comico and Valiant (both now defunct companies), I don’t think I’ve seen his work anywhere since Pantheon, which is a shame.

(The covers to the issues of the series were really cool, too. Colorful and eye-catching.)

It’s rare for a small press to produce a mainstream superhero book which stacks up against the big guys – even the larger independent companies often have trouble pulling that off – but Pantheon hits the mark while being different and imaginative. It might not be for everyone, and some people might find it not different enough, but for most people, if you’re a fan of superhero comics, this one is well worth searching out (or even buying from the publisher!).

This Week’s Haul

  • Fables: The Good Prince vol 10 TPB, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Aaron Alexovich & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice Society of America #16, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Fernando Pasarin & Rebecca Buchman (DC)
  • Tom Strong vol 6 TPB, by Alan Moore, Chris Sprouse, Michael Moorcock, Jerry Ordway, Joe Casey, Ben Oliver, Steve Moore, Paul Gulacy, Jimmy Palmiotti, Peter Hogan & Karl Story (DC/America’s Best)
  • Avengers/Invaders #2 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Steve Sadowski (Marvel)
  • Nova #14, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • The Boys #19, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Star Trek: Assignment Earth #2 of 12, by John Byrne (IDW)
Tom Strong vol 6 Tom Strong was one of the flagship titles of Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics imprint. It was basically a mash-up of Doc Savage and other adventure heroes, with Tom having been born in the late 19th century, come of age in a high-pressure chamber which made him immensely strong, and lived for over a century thanks to a rare herb from the island on which he grew up. He became the protector of Millennium City and the adversary of the villainous Paul Saveen. It’s far from Moore’s best stuff, but it was often quite entertaining, and was amply supported by terrific art by the too-rarely-seen Chris Sprouse.

The sixth trade paperback collection completes the set, but the series really limped to a halt (mainly because I think Moore cut back on his work once the imprint was bought by DC Comics). This volume includes a lavishly-illustrated but trivial pirate story by Michael Moorcock and Jerry Ordway, and a few episodes which tie up some loose ends for some of the characters. This culminates in the final issue, in which everything gets tied up by Moore in a close encounter with the afterlife courtesy of one of the other ABC characters, Promethea.

So the volume practically screams “for completists only”, and in a way that’s what Tom Strong was on the whole: If you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing that you’ll like. It was less ambitious than either Promethea or Top 10, and never really went anywhere. Just Moore playing around, really. There’s some very good stuff in the series, but more than anything else in the ABC line-up, it seemed to underscore that Moore has long since peaked as a writer and is pretty firmly on the back end of his career at this point.

Star Trek: Assignment: Earth #2.jpg This month’s Assignment: Earth is simply a “shadow history” taking place within the Star Trek episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday”, which takes place two years after “Assignment: Earth” to Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln, but before that episode to the crew of the Enterprise. It’s a cute idea, albeit not very original, but unfortunately it doesn’t reveal anything about the main characters, or anything about the TV episode, since Kirk and company pretty much covered all their bases at the time. So unfortunately there turned out to be no point except to play around with story structure. I’d rather have had a brand new story which moved the characters of Seven and Roberta forward; this issue felt like empty calories.

(Oh, and the scene on the cover never appears in the issue, which makes it feel like a bait-and-switch!)

Comics I Didn’t Buy This Week:

  • Manhunter #31, by Marc Andreyko & Michael Gaydos (DC)
  • Trinity #1 of 52, by Kurt Busiek, Mark Bagley & Art Thibert (DC)
Manhunter #31 Having read and enjoyed the trade paperback collections of the first 30 issues of Manhunter, I’d sort of assumed that I’d keep buying the regular series when it “relaunched” this year with #31. However, that was before I learned that the artist would be Michael Gaydos, who had drawn Alias over at Marvel. His dark renderings, unexpressive and often indistinct faces and generally gloomy approach made that book a real chore to read, and I bailed on the series after the first arc, mainly for that reason. Thumbing through Manhunter #31 it doesn’t look like his art’s changed much. Although I’d like to support the book, I just really don’t like the artwork, so I passed on it.
Trinity #1 Trinity is DC’s new weekly title, following on the heels of 52 and Countdown to Final Crisis. This one, though, seems unrelated to any corporate events, and is written by the reliable Kurt Busiek. Nonetheless, I decided not to pick it up. Partly I feel too burned by Countdown, but mainly I’m just not that interested in a book about DC’s “big three”, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. I find Superman occasionally interesting, but Batman has rarely interested me since The Dark Knight Returns turned him down the road of being a psychopath, and Wonder Woman rarely interests me. So instead I’ll wait ’til Busiek gets to the next arc of Astro City to get my fix of his writing.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #13, by Mark Waid, Jerry Ordway, Scott Koblish & Bob McLeod (DC)
  • Countdown to Mystery #8 of 8, by Matthew Sturges, Chad Hardin & Robert Campanella, and Adam Beechen & Stephen Jorge Segovia, and Mark Evanier, Joe Bennett & Belardino Brabo, and Mark Waid, Michael O’Hare & John Floyd, and Gail Simone, Chad Hardin & Walden Wong (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #15, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham & Prentis Rollins (DC)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #3 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Jamal Ingle & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Echo #3, by Terry Moore (Abstract Studios)
  • The End League #3, by Rick Remender, Mat Broome & Sean Parsons (Dark Horse)
  • Grendel: Devil Quest HC, by Matt Wagner (Dark Horse)
  • Star Trek: Assignment: Earth #1 of 12, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • The Perhapanauts #2, by Todd Dezago & Craig Rousseau (Image)
Countdown to Mystery #8 We’ll probably never know what Steve Gerber had in mind for the conclusion to his Doctor Fate story in Countdown to Mystery before he died. Four 4-page entries written by four different writers probably wasn’t it, and consequently the story comes to a rather abrupt end (several of them) with none of the delicacy it really required, as Gerber was always walking on the knife-edge of making the thing work anyway. Of the four, Mark Evanier’s version feels most true to Gerber’s style, while Gail Simone’s feels the least. But all of them are too short, too simplistic. Gerber’s writing has always (well, that I’ve seen) had a strong psychological component, not only having quirky characters but exploring what their quirks mean and where they come from. Although this facet of his work was often the most uneven part, it’s also a tack that few other comics writers ever take, and unfortunately what there is of that facet in these four endings tends to be far more heavy-handed than Gerber would have used.

It’s not really anybody’s fault, and I appreciate that DC and the four writers wanted to pay a little tribute to Gerber, but I think the story and the readers would have been better served to have picked one ending and done that one the best they could. Ah well.

The other half of the comics, the Eclipso yarn, ended up being slightly more meaningful than I’d expected, comparing the similarities between Eclipso and the Spectre. The thing was still pretty superfluous, though, as nearly everything tied in to Countdown to Final Crisis has been. Just think: If DC had gone with Plan A and just done a Doctor Fate mini-series (which they had solicited and then cancelled), we could have avoided this whole Eclipso rubbish and Gerber might have been able to finish the story in his lifetime. Sheesh.

Echo #3 Things really pick up in the third issue of Echo, which encourages me enormously: We find out something about
‘s family, and why her husband is divorcing her. We find out something about the metal suit that’s partially grafted itself onto her body. And there’s an odd scene at the end which I expect will be explained in the coming months. Suddenly this is feeling like a much less generic indy comic. Which is good.
Grendel: Devil Quest HC Matt Wagner’s Grendel series is one of my favorites. It didn’t start out that way, though, as its first volume, Devil by the Deed concerned a crime lord named Hunter Rose. Wagner has revisited the Rose character from time to time, but I’ve pretty much given up on those, as it’s the least interesting slice of the Grendel story. Much more interesting are the stories which concern how Grendel – a spirit of aggression – affects the history of Earth over the next few hundred years, expanding from profoundly affecting a few influential individuals, to eventually helping to craft a global empire under the rule of Emperor Orion Assante several hundred years from now.

This volume, Devil Quest, takes place several generations after the excellent War Child story – which is about Orion’s son, Jupiter – concerning several interested parties trying to locate the Grendel cyborg who had helped Jupiter establish his own rule after his father died. The cyborg Grendel-Prime is on his own mission trying to strengthen the Empire, too, and his quest leads directly into the second half of the Batman/Grendel volume (the better half, as the first half involves Hunter Rose meeting Batman).

Written and drawn by Wagner, the art is superb. The story is eccentric and sometimes violently brutal, which I think is intentional; Wagner was trying to shock and push the envelope a little. Unfortunately it also comes to an ending which feels unfinished – even with the Batman story factored in – which makes it a disappointing read in total. Though the trip to get there is quite interesting.

Anyway, I did enjoy it enough to pick up this new hardcover collection. But your mileage may vary. I keep waiting for Wagner to do another Grendel sequence carrying the future history beyond this volume, but it seems like Wagner’s done as much as he plans to with the tale and he’s otherwise just poking around in the side corridors of the earlier stories, which doesn’t interest me as much. Alas.

Star Trek: Assignment: Earth #1 “Assignment: Earth” was an episode of the original Star Trek series which was intended as a pilot for a new TV series. The series didn’t sell, which isn’t surprising because it was a pretty wan, unimaginative episode. Nonetheless, IDW’s current renaissance of Star Trek comic books has resulted in a series based on the episode, written and drawn by John Byrne! As he’s done elsewhere, Byrne is using an unorthodox storytelling technique of having each issue take place a year later than the first one. Although not everything Byrne does works for me, I do usually enjoy his stories which are structurally adventurous like this, so I was moved to buy it.

It’s not bad, although it doesn’t go much past the TV episode. But then, it’s basically trying to lay the groundwork for the overall arc, which will I guess run through about 1980. He obviously has a lot of fun writing Roberta Lincoln (the Teri Garr role), as well as drawing Gary Seven (the Robert Lansing role) whose character he expands a little bit here. So it’s a decent start, and I’m curious to see where Byrne goes with it.

Kirk, You Ignorant…

Today I had coffee with Subrata, Cliff and Whump and as we usually do we were geeking out about various things. The conversation turned to the Mirror Universe two-parter toward the end of Enterprise, “In A Mirror, Darkly”, which Cliff hadn’t seen. So I described the premise, and eventually got to mentioning my favorite part:

“And we get to see Scott Bakula in Kirk’s slut uniform!”

A great thing about my friends is that they all know exactly which outfit I mean when I say that.

Scalzi: Star Wars Not Entertainment

Not that he needs any referrals from me, but John Scalzi’s post “The Lie of Star Wars as Entertainment” is both funny and insightful.

(Scalzi, for the both of my readers who don’t know, is a prince of a man and also one of the world’s elite kitten-jugglers, er, I mean, one of the most popular bloggers on the Web.)

I think he goes a little over the top in criticizing the original trilogy (Star Wars, Empire and Jedi), though he does allow that people other than George Lucas worked to make it entertaining. But my understanding is that Lucas didn’t get on his myth-making kick until after the original Star Wars came out. (I thought the original trilogy was solidly entertaining until they rescued Han Solo in Jedi, at which point it took a bizarre left turn into la-la land.)

Another point to spin out of Scalzi’s post is…

…those of you who know me can see this coming, right?…

…you can level almost identical charges against Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was primarily concerned with stroking the asinine Trek mythology about a bright, shiny, happy future for humanity, and which shoved aside (with great force) all of the conflict and character drama which made the original Star Trek good entertainment. Like Star Wars Eps 1-3, NextGen is largely bland and tedious, because it’s fundamentally unconcerned with entertaining the viewer.