This Week’s Haul

  • Adventure Comics #526, by Paul Levitz, Kevin Sharpe & Marlo Alquiza, and Jeff Lemire, Mahmud A. Asrar & John Dell (DC)
  • Astro City Special: Silver Agent #1 of 2, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • The Brave and the Bold #35, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Superman #701, by J. Michael Straczynski, Eddy Barrow & J.P. Mayer (DC)
  • The Unwritten #15, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Echo #23, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Age of Reptiles: The Journey #4 of 4, by Ricardo Delgado (Dark Horse)
  • The Mystery Society #2, by Steve Niles & Fiona Staples (IDW)
  • Chew #12, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
  • The Sixth Gun #1 & #2, by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni)
Okay, I get the idea (after all of 2 issues): Adventure Comics is going to have little stories about the Legion of Super-Heroes past (well, relative to the regular Legion comic). This is too trivial for me to care about, especially since the Paul Levitz Legion has never been all that to me. (The Jim Shooter Legion it ain’t.) This issue especially annoys me because I’m dreadfully tired of Brainiac 5 being portrayed as essentially a cranky old Vulcan. I also loathe the faux-Russian speech mannerisms of the Legion’s late benefactor R.J. Brande here. Bad stuff.

This issue also had an Atom back-up that lost me after about 2 pages.

This series isn’t worth bothering with, so I’ll be sticking to the main series from here on out.

On the other hand, the new Astro City is a 2-parter focusing on the Silver Agent. The Agent was introduced early in the series via a statue of the man with the words “To Our Eternal Shame” on the plaque. We saw more of him in The Dark Age as his fate marked the end of the silver age in Astro City and the beginning of that dark age. But that wasn’t the end of the character.

In a nutshell, you could describe the premise of the character thus: What is Captain America were framed for murder, and was executed (with the public’s approval) before the truth came out? But what if just before the execution, he was rescued by the Legion of Super-Heroes, who pulled him forward to the future to help them in a war of their own? And what if he then had to weigh the decision to live the rest of his life in the future, or to return to meet the fate history had laid out for him?

That’s this issue (along with his origin). And it’s really good. The Dark Age felt like it meandered around too much, and this issue feels like it’s getting back the focus the series has otherwise always had. Next issue, well, I’m hoping Busiek and Anderson knock it out of the park, because it’s what we’ve been waiting for for a long, long time.

(And how awesome is the logo on the cover? It looks like it came right off a Marvel comic from the 1960s!)

Getting back to the chaff, J. Michael Straczynski’s The Brave and the Bold has been generally pretty bad, although seeing Jesus Saiz develop as an artist has been nice. But this issue is awful, as the Legion of Substitute Heroes and the Inferior Five “team up” to try to save the world – from the same menace the Legion of Super-Heroes and the Doom Patrol saved it from last issue, explaining a few mysteries from last issue. It’s supposed to be funny, but it’s anything but. It’s actually rather embarrassing. I’m not really sure why people think the Subs are best used as comical figures, since every attempt to write a funny story with them has been just awful. They were used much better in Geoff Johns’ “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” story a couple of years back. Sure, they’re second-stringers, but in a sense that just means they have to try harder. Making fun of them is, well, no fun at al. As for the Inferior Five, well, if ever there was a joke whose time has long since passed, they’re it.

I don’t think I can stand any more of this series, so I’m hitting the eject button.

In a way it’s too bad, because the first year of this series, by Mark Waid and George Pérez, was excellent (especially the first 6 issues), but it really went downhill quickly after that. Nothing really memorable other than the Green Lantern/Spectre issues, which were enjoyable enough.

And speaking of J. Michael Straczynski, Superman #701 is the real first chapter of his series “Grounded”. Superman doesn’t entirely stay on the ground, but he walks across the country to interact with people on their level. It’s basically full of Straczynski clichés: The slightly-too-sentimental rescues, the humor that fails badly, the out-of-place and rather tedious philosophical asides. It’s not quite as bad as all that, but it feels downright trivial, and very much unlike a Superman story. As I said last month, I don’t think Straczynski really gets superhero comics, since none of his really seem to work (other than The Twelve, in which the fact that the characters were superheroes was almost incidental to the story).

The story will need to shift in tone sharply next issue, because this premise as depicted here just doesn’t have legs (so to speak).

John Cassaday’s cover has been getting a lot of favorable reviews, but I think he’s done much better work. The composition is nothing special, and it looks like there’s something wrong with Supes’ head and neck.

A larger disappointment has been the new Age of Reptiles mini-series. The first two series were great stuff, telling actual stories about dinosaurs without anthropomorphizing them too much (just enough to make them a little more sympathetic – or not – to the readers). You could argue that Ricardo Delgado framed everything to make a story out of it.

But The Journey has been more a series of vignettes, without an actual story. Or if there was one, then it was too subtle or too buried for me to pick up on it. So although lavishly illustrated, it hasn’t been a very satisfying read. I got to the end of this issue and scratched my head wondering exactly what the point was. Okay, drawing dinosaurs may be a point in itself, but really this was a big letdown compared to the first two series.

Finally, The Sixth Gun premiered as a Free Comic Book Day giveaway, and the first two issues both came out this week. (The first issue is essentially identical to the FCBD issue.) It’s quite good, being a supernatural horror story set in the old west: An old Confederate general is raised from the grave (if he ever really went there in the first place) and wants his gun back. But his gun is bonded to the daughter of the man who stole it from him, and she’s being spirited away by one of the General’s former posse, whose motivations are still murky.

There’s violence, mayhem, dark magic, ghosts, and all kinds of good stuff, and Brian Hurtt’s art is excellent, expressive and nuanced despite his fundamentally simple style. Overall this is a nice package and a fun read. I’m looking forward to more.

This Week’s Haul

A big week this time around, but I don’t have much time to write, so it’ll be short.

I will say that the first issue of Power Girl under the new creative team is about as good as the previous team, although I’m not fond of the coloring approach. The new Dynamo 5 series fits right in with the previous series, and is a good jumping-on point if you’d like to read about a group of heroes who each inherited a different power from their Superman-like father. Oh, and a new Girl Genius volume, which is always enjoyable, even if you’ve been reading the webcomic (as I have).

  • American Vampire #4, by Scott Snyder, Stephen King & Rafael Albuquerque (DC)
  • Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3 of 6, by Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette & Michel Lacombe (DC)
  • Green Lantern Corps #49, by Tony Bedard, Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #2, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Francis Portela & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Power Girl #13, by Judd Winick & Sami Basri (DC)
  • Superman #700, by James Robinson & Bernard Chang, Dan Jurgens, and J. Michael Straczynski, Eddy Barrows & J.P. Mayer (DC)
  • Zatanna #2, by Paul Dini, Stephane Roux & Karl Story (DC)
  • Fantastic Four #580, by Jonathan Hickman, Neil Edwards & Andrew Currie (Marvel)
  • Criminal: The Sinners vol 5 TPB, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Powers #5, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm vol 9 HC, by Phil Foglio & Kaja Foglio (Airship)
  • Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #2 of 4, by David Petersen, Alex Kain, Terry Moore, Lowell Francis & Gene Ha (Archaia)
  • Incorruptible #7, by Mark Waid, Horacio Domingues & Juan Castro (Boom)
  • Dynamo 5: Sins of the Father #1 of 5, by Jay Faerber & Júlio Brilha (Image)
Wow, I can’t remember the last time a comic destroyed my enthusiasm for a new creator’s run as has Superman #700.

To be sure, this “anniversary” issue contains three stories, and the first two are okay. The first one seems to be the coda to James Robinson’s run on the book, which featured the Kryptonian city of Kandor, Superman leaving Earth to live with the Kryptonians when they settled on another world, and a war among the Kryptonians. I didn’t follow the story, and the notion of Superman leaving Earth like that made little sense to me. The story here features him returning and being reunited with Lois Lane (his wife, as you may recall), and it’s touching enough even though Supes’ reasons for leaving don’t really hold water.

The second story is a cute little Dan Jurgens tale of years past, when Dick Grayson was a teenaged Robin and wasn’t yet allowed to go out on missions by himself. He does, of course, and Superman has to bail him out – in more ways than one. I like tales like this one, done well, as this one is.

The third story is new writer J. Michael Straczynski’s first chapter of his ongoing Superman story, and Straczynski is pretty much being handed the keys to the kingdom: Superman will appear in Superman only, and Action Comics will focus on Lex Luthor. Considering the Man of Steel has commonly appeared in 2, 3, 4 or even more titles monthly for the last 20 years, this is a big deal.

Unfortunately, Straczynski’s comics writing has been pretty shaky (his run on Thor over at Marvel was terrible, and he never completed one of his better comics of recent years, The Twelve, also at Marvel), and this first chapter is pretty bad: Superman holds a press conference regarding his involvement with the Kryptonians, is confronted by a woman whose husband died because Superman was off on another world and had no chance to save him (even if he could), and is apparently wracked with guilt over his actions. After talking with Batman and The Flash, Superman lands… and walks away.

And yes, the title of the storyline is going to be “Grounded”.

And boy, what a stupid, stupid idea.

Many writers have tried to tackle the notion of Superman not being able to help everyone, not even being able to even try. 20 years ago, there was a great story when Superman was off-world (that’s right, this isn’t even the first time this has happened) about the Justice League going through all his Christmas mail at his mailbox, a touching story of holiday cheer yet also reminding us that Superman is still a man. And of course Kurt Busiek’s character Samaritan in Astro City is a Superman character who tries to help everyone, at the cost of living his own life. But the set-up for this story is contrived, and doesn’t resonate emotionally at all. Presumably Superman is “grounding” himself to gain a human perspective on the world, but come on, that’s just not something I can believe he’d do. Superman has bouts of shaken confidence, but he’s always had a strong sense of self, and comfort with his powers. This just doesn’t ring true.

I appreciate that Straczynski tries to explore aspects of characters in ways that haven’t been done before, but as far as established characters go, he seems to consistently misunderstand what it is what embodied and drives that character. When working with his own creations he actually does this quite well, but when playing in someone else’s sandbox, he comes up with unusually contrived set-ups and changes the character’s essence in some unbelievable way.

So this already looks like another disastrous superhero comic by Straczynski. He’s got about two issues to convince me that it’s something other than what it seems, or I’m out of here. And his track record in convincing me otherwise is not good.

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #22, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Green Lantern #43, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Deluxe Edition HC, by Alan Moore, Curt Swan, Dave Gibbons, Rick Veitch, George Pérez & Kurt Schaffenberger (DC)
  • The Unwritten #3, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Wednesday Comics #1, by various (DC)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1947 #1 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart, Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon (Dark Horse)
  • Sinfest vol 1 TPB, by Tatsuya Ishida (Dark Horse)
  • Star Trek: Crew #5 of 6, by John Byrne (IDW)
Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Deluxe Edition HC Alan Moore’s Superman stories from the 1980s get the spiffy hardcover collection treatment this week.

The titular story in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? was Moore’s coda to the pre-Crisis Superman, and is one of the best Superman stories ever, especially for people who grew up reading his 50s, 60s and 70s adventures as I did. All of Superman’s old enemies come back at once, disrupting his life and threatening the lives of his friends. Superman retreats to his Fortress of Solitude to await the end of his career and perhaps his life. While Moore brings a modern sensibility to what seemed like silly menaces of past decades, the themes are fundamentally those of classic Superman: Help others even at cost to yourself, and that Superman can never kill, no matter how dire the threat. Before Spider-Man codified the principle of great power conveying great responsibility, Superman was living by it, and Moore focuses on that as the central element of the character’s classic portrayal. with art by Curt Swan, George Pérez and Kurt Schaffenberger, it has a classic visual style too.

The other major work here is “For the Man Who Has Everything”, in which Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman visit the Fortress for Superman’s birthday, and find him incapacitated by an alien plant that induces a dream/trance state, and his enemy Mongol ready to take over the world with Superman out of the way. Aside from the battle in the real world (which ends with a terrific moment for Robin), Superman’s dream of life if Krypton hadn’t exploded is exactly as poignant and tragic as you might expect. Moore’s career in the 80s was full of melancholy stories despite the heroic deeds done in them, and this story fits right in with them. Dave Gibbons draws the story, in a style which seems like a transition from his earlier style in which everything looked slightly shiny, and his ultra-realistic Watchmen style.

The third story is a largely-forgettable Superman/Swamp Thing story from a team-up book illustrated by Rick Veitch, whose art I’ve never really warmed to. Not everything Moore wrote was a winner even in his heyday, so this one is for completists only. Nonetheless, this is a terrific package worth picking up if you haven’t read the big two stories before and you have any interest at all in the Man of Steel.

Wednesday Comics #1 A large slice of the comics blogosphere has gone all melty over Wednesday Comics (for instance, see here, here, or here). This is DC’s new weekly anthology series where each chapter of each story is 1 page long. On the other hand, it’s a big page, printed on newspaper-tabloid-sized paper, albeit on paper of lower quality than your typical modern comic book (but better than newsprint). The series is slated to run 12 issues, which means at the end we’ll have gotten 15 12-page stories for $3.99 per issue.

The format has the obvious drawback that the first issue barely gets anywhere in any of the stories because, well, they’re only a page long. So the best pages are the ones that go for broke on the artwork: Kyle Baker’s deeply textured Hawkman page, or Jose-Luis Garcia Lopez and Kevin Nowlan’s Metal Men page (JLGL’s layout style was made for this large format). Other strips look either pedestrian, or overdrawn. Ben Caldwell’s Wonder Woman is so intricate it’s practically unreadable, while Barbara Ciardo’s colors over Lee Bernejo’s Superman make the page look stiff.

You could call Wednesday Comics a “micro-anthology” book, and it evokes the feel of newspaper adventure strips with the tabloid format. For me it more directly recalls the Action Comics Weekly series of 1988-89, which I think illustrated how difficult anthology comics are to pull off in the modern era, especially with publishers’ priorities to market their trademarked properties above all else. Wednesday Comics has a leg up on ACW in that it contains the work of many A-list creators (Baker, Busiek, Gaiman, Pope, Kubert), but it remains to be seen whether they’ll have the latitude to produce noteworthy stories. It’s far too soon to tell if any stories here will be much good.

When Wednesday Comics was announced, my reaction was, “Enh, anthology comic. I bet the stories will be entirely forgotten in a year or so.” I wasn’t even planning to buy it, but all the hype made me change my mind. I still think it will end up being largely forgettable, but there could be a couple of exceptions. We’ll see.

Sinfest vol 1 Tatsuya Ishida’s Sinfest is a terrific webcomic, dynamically drawn and utterly irreverent, yet charming and funny, it’s been around for nearly 10 years. There have been three collections via CafePress, and now Dark Horse has issued a new collection. I haven’t checked to see what the differences are between the collections – other than the cover and some of Ishida’s college material in the new one – but I decided to pick it up anyway.

Broadly, the premise involves the ongoing struggle between God and Satan for the soul of Slick, a young man (who resembles Calvin with sunglasses) who wants eternal hedonism. The main supporting character is Monique, the object of Slick’s desire, albeit one who’s completely her own person and isn’t going to let him just have his own way. The strip is PG-13 rated, with strong innuendoes (and language) but no nudity; it’s oddly clean, yet dirty.

Fundamentally, the strip’s humor is based in characters who have strong wants and drives which conflict with one another. This may be best exemplified in Percy and Pooch, the artist’s cat and dog (or fictional representations thereof) who play, argue, fight, and follow their drives while their owner is away. Their adventures are the favorite part of many of the strip’s fans, as he’s got the nature of and differences between cats and dogs perfectly nailed for comedic purposes.

I’ve been reading the strip for years and although it sometimes feels like its edge has been a bit blunted, these early strips feel as fresh as ever. While it might not be for everyone, it should appeal to anyone who enjoys irreverent humor, especially people who enjoyed the early Bloom County strips before Bill the Cat sent it into its downhill spiral.

(Looks like the second volume will be out in December.)

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #14, by Rick Remender, Pat Olliffe & Jerry Ordway (DC)
  • Fables #78, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice Society of America: Kingdom Come Special: Superman #1, by Alex Ross (DC)
  • Fire & Brimstone #3 of 5, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • B.P.R.D.: The Warning #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
Fables #78 Wow, after a couple issues of adjustment, Fables is hitting the ground running in its post-Adversary storyline. A couple of treasure-hunters in the homelands free what looks like a Really Bad Man aims to cause big trouble for our heroes. Geppetto is still holier-than-thou, and he maybe has some justification. And something really bad happens to a good guy, while something really good happens to a bad girl (and that ain’t good for the good guys). Things could get out of hand quickly for our heroes, and I think that’s the point: They’re heading into uncharted waters against opponents they don’t know much about, one of whom they don’t even know exists.

Willingham’s usual modus operandi as a writer involves characters making careful plans and then navigating the difficulties in executing them. It looks like he’s preparing for a sequence of sheer carnage and mayhem, and I’m very interested in seeing how it plays out. And, frankly, a little nervous, because I foresee things going very, very badly for some of our heroes – and that this makes me nervous is a sign of good writing.

Justice Society of America: Kingdom Come Special: Superman #1 Alex Ross flies solo on this Justice Society tie-in, focusing on the Superman from Kingdom Come. The issue is mainly an exploration of Superman’s feelings and regrets in the wake of the death of his wife and friends on his own world, and it’s quite well-done. Arguably it doesn’t really provide a lot more information than we received in Kingdom Come, but it does provide some depth and nuance, and humanizes the Man of Steel from the parallel world some. The most touching moments are when he tells this world’s Lois Lane what happened on his world, and how it changed him.

The important detail regarding the ongoing JSA story is the revelation that Superman was sent to this Earth when the bomb was dropped on the warring superheroes. This occurs near the end of Kingdom Come, but it’s still before the end. That suggests that Superman’s presence here is part of his redemption at the end of that story, and it also explains his anger in JSA since he hasn’t gone through the crucial experiences in the final pages of that story.

Well, either that, or Ross and Geoff Johns are just messin’ with us. (That would suck.)

The book has an afterword in which Ross describes his process of illustrating the book, which is not painted like his usual work. It’s fairly interesting, although somehow seeing how extensively he uses photographic models takes some of the magic out of his otherwise wonderful artwork.

I’ve given Ross a rough time in my reviews of many of his recent projects, but this one is solid. I wish all his work was this good. Heck, I wish JSA was this good, as character bits like this have been almost entirely absent from that series (a problem I’ve had with it ever since the previous volume was launched back in 1999).

B.P.R.D.: The Warning #5 The latest B.P.R.D. mini-series comes to an end, and although some of the pieces have moved around (there’s a new villain – who might be a hero, but his methods are questionable; Liz Sherman has disappeared; monsters are allying with each other and have decimated Munich), I’m still wondering where it’s all going. It’s been years and it doesn’t feel like we’re getting anywhere.

I know, I’m sung this song before, and anyone who’s been reading me long enough is probably wondering why I keep reading the series. I wonder that myself; every time I decide to give up I figure if I just read one more mini-series, then the answers and resolutions will start coming. Sometimes I read one more series and it’s just good enough to make me curious what happens next. But ultimately I keep being disappointed: I honestly can’t tell whether the plot has really progressed over the last couple of years.

Maybe it is time for me to quit.

This Week’s Haul

  • Final Crisis #4 of 7, by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Superman: New Krypton Special #1, by Geoff Johns, James Robinson, Sterling Gates, Pete Woods, Gary Frank, Renato Guedes, Jon Sibal & Wilson Magalhaes (DC)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #8 of 12, by Jan Jurgens, Wes Craig & Dan Davis, and Ron Marz, Andie Tong & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Hulk #7, by Jeph Loeb, Arthur Adams & Frank Cho (Marvel)
  • Longshot HC, by Ann Nocenti & Arthur Adams (Marvel)
  • Echo #7, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Invincible #54, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Final Crisis #4 In this week’s installment of Final Crisis, basically nothing happens.

By which I mean: Darkseid has essentially taken over the world through judicious distribution of Anti-Life (but that happened last issue), the heroes fail to mount an effective defense or for that matter really do much of anything at all, and Darkseid manages his own resurrection.

This may be the slowest limited series ever.

I mean, c’mon; the series should have gotten to the final page of this issue by the end of issue #1, or maybe issue #2. And, geez, I don’t really have anything to add to that, because basically nothing happens in this issue. And to the extent that it seems like something happens, none of it is new: At best this is sort of a lead-in to the dark future portrayed in Morrison’s old JLA yarn, Rock of Ages. The heroes pulling together evokes Crisis on Infinite Earths. And although Barry Allen coming back is hands-down the best part of the book, we’ve seen it before, too, several times.

As has been widely reported, artist J.G. Jones is not going to be drawing the final issue of Final Crisis, and indeed he splits time here with the always-terrific Carlos Pacheco (his replacement for #7 will be the less-terrific Doug Mahnke). While I like Jones’ renderings, I think his static layouts have slowed the story down even further.

I joked in a comment in Chris Sims’ Invincible Super-Blog that I’m enjoying Marvel’s Secret Invasion more than Final Crisis even though I’m not even buying it, just thumbing through it in the store. But at least stuff is happening in Secret Invasion. Final Crisis is thoroughly, resoundingly, a storytelling train wreck.

In very, very slow motion.

Superman: New Krypton Special #1 I’m not sure why I picked up the New Krypton Special, since I was underwhelmed by the “Brainiac” story in Action Comics, and because I really have a hard time seeing them doing anything new and innovative with the story of a city full of Kryptonians arriving on Earth and gaining super powers.

This special starts with Jonathan Kent’s funeral, which is rather well done; Johns and Frank nail the emotions Clark must be feeling, and his memories of his dad are genuinely touching. It still feels a little gratuitous that they went this avenue in the first place, but at least it’s been tastefully and touchingly handled.

The rest of the book has two threads: First is a government project to interrogate Brainiac, a project which is concerned both with how to deal with Superman should it become necessary, and more urgently to deal with thousands of other Kryptonians who have recently arrived on the planet. The other thread involves Superman and Supergirl visiting Kandor in the Arctic where they meet Supergirl’s parents, Zor-El and Alura, and see that the Kandorians are developing super-powers. Unfortunately (but predictably) they don’t really have much interest in integrating with human culture, and instead see Earth as “New Krypton”.

Certainly there’s some promise here, but I can’t shake the notion that the story is just going to be a big disappointment. To some extent this is the drawback of being in the DC Universe: Not only are there thousands of superhumans on Earth, not to mention plenty of big guns which could probably do some serious harm to the Kandorians, but there are groups like the Green Lantern Corps out there who would certainly have an interest in reining in the Kandorians if they behave badly. Will the story deal with these issues head-on? Hard to say, but I expect various contrivances to avoid (for example) a Kandorian-Green Lantern Corps showdown.

Actually I think the best outcome for this story is to sidestep the expected attempts by various Kandorians to do as they wish on this planet of Kleenex-people and go in some other direction. For example, the Kandorians might actually end up being more socially sophisticated and understanding than humans (presently) are. But what fun would that be?

Anyway. I’m not sure whether I’ll keep buying the New Krypton stories. I might, since it’s just another book a month, but I can’t shake the feeling that the whole thing is just a Bad Idea. But perhaps I’ll see if they can prove me wrong.

(Oh, one thing I don’t understand, having just read the Supergirl/Raven story in The Brave and the Bold, is why Supergirl has this huge animosity towards and fear of her father in that story (it was what was driving the story, actually), but is delighted to see her parents still alive in this one. Seems like someone somewhere in editorial dropped the ball on that one.)

Tangent: Superman's Reign #8 I was enjoying Tangent: Superman’s Reign for the first few issues, but my interest has been flagging lately. Partly the story feels stretched, with characters running to and fro without much sense of drama. But the big blow has been the artwork, especially in the main series: We got several issues of the polished and elegant art of Jamal Ingle, but the last two issues have features Wes Craig’s much sketchier style, which just doesn’t work for me. I speculate that the comic hasn’t been doing well in sales so editorial reallocated Ingle’s time elsewhere. That’s just a guess, though.

The series is still somewhat entertaining, though nowhere near as much fun as the original Tangent comics, which were a “skip week” project back in the 90s (and which have been recently reprinted and are worth seeking out). But it feels like it could have been a lot better.

Hulk vol 4 #7 The “red Hulk” series is heading off the rails in the hurry. Publishing delays haven’t helped, of course, but the story’s losing direction fast. This issue is split into two parts: Bruce Banner returns to Las Vegas and turns into the gray Hulk, where he runs into Moon Knight. And She-Hulk recruits Valkyrie and Thundra to go after the red Hulk. So both stories end on cliffhangers, and naturally we have Frank Cho drawing the story with the three statuesque women, a cliche that seems like it’s even older than I am. So we end up with a ridiculous splash page like this:

Holk vol 4 #7 splash page
(click for larger image)

(Is this panel better or worse than the cover to Tangent: Superman’s Reign above? Arguably they’re about the same, but at least I got more value from the inside of Tangent, whereas the second story in Hulk is completely gratuitous.)

Plus, the dialogue is so bad I had to wonder if it was written by Cho, too. Ugh. (You know, I used to be a fan of Cho’s, back when he was doing Liberty Meadows. But in my opinion he hasn’t really developed much as an artist since then, and the quirks of his writing and layouts became repetitive and tiresome.)

This series was entertaining when it was big monsters smashing each other, with a hint of mystery about the red Hulk. But that’s basically gone. And certainly there’s no sophistication to the story – that got left behind when Greg Pak ended his run. Now it’s just a mess.

On the bright side the gray Hulk half was illustrated by Art Adams, which is always a treat. Speaking of which…

Longshot premiere hardcover This week saw the publication of the Longshot hardcover collection, reprinting the mini-series from 1985. This is notable because it was also Art Adams’ first major comics work.

Longshot is an amnesiac freedom-fighter from an alternate dimension, stranded in our world and trying to both adjust to it and deal with some of the stuff from his world that’s chasing him. Longshot is a true innocent, but he’s also got boffo acrobatic skills, and the ability to twist probabilities around him to his advantage. The whole thing is a fun ride, weirdly quirky, slightly existential.

Watching Adams develop through the six issues collected here is a revelation. The first two issues are very rough, clearly someone still finding his voice, and struggling with facial expressions especially. By the fourth issue, many of the trademark Adams poses and stylistic flourishes are there, and by the sixth he seems nearly like the Adams we’ve known ever since. Okay, he’s honed his craft and become a better storyteller since then, but the fundamentals of his style, what makes his art his, are all there.

Nocenti was clearly a relatively novice writer when the series was published, and it shows around the edges: The dialogue is rough at times, and the narrative can be difficult to follow. I think this is partly deliberate (Longshot’s memories of his pre-Earth life are deliberately dreamlike) but partly because Nocenti is taking a pretty challenging route in telling the story and it’s not quite smooth enough. Still, seeing something that’s this good yet still this rough makes it both an intriguing read and an interesting historical document. It’s a very distinctively told story, and nothing else I’ve read in mainstream comics is quite the same.

Longshot somehow ended up being shoehorned into the X-Men, which always seemed like a big mismatch to me, since he’s not a mutant, he’s very much a loner struggling to find somewhere to fit in. It’s always been disappointing that Nocenti never had the opportunity to follow up with some more solo adventures of the character. But that’s all water under the bridge now. This series stands not so much as a reminder of what might have been, but rather of the strange wonderful comics that were published by the big two back in the 1980s. Days like that don’t come around very often.

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #13, by Rick Remender, Pat Olliffe & Jerry Ordway (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #18, by Marv Wolfman & Phil Winslade (DC)
  • Fables #77, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #2 of 5, by Geoff Johns, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #19, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham & Nathan Massengill (DC)
  • Annihilation Conquest: Book One TPB, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Mike Perkins, Keith Giffen, Timothy Green II & Victor Olazaba, and Christos Gage, Mike Lilly & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Astonishing X-Men #27, by Warren Ellis & Simone Bianchi (Marvel)
  • RASL #3, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon)
  • Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #3 of 5, by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & Lauren Pettapiece (Red 5)
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #2 For sure, Legion of 3 Worlds is one of the most fanboy-geek-wankery type books ever published. Still, if you’re a Legion fan, then issue #2 is almost as much fun as issue #1. If you’re not a Legion fan, then you probably won’t care and you’ve already moved on.

The opening sequence catches up with some of the characters from the later days of the Legion: Blok, the White Witch, and Rond Vidar, who’s now the last Green Lantern in the universe. (The fate of the Green Lanterns was one of the more interesting threads from the Levitz/Giffen Legion, which I mostly found to be greatly overrated.) After that, the story is partly watching the new Legion of Super-Villains organize itself around Superboy-Prime, and partly Brainiac 5 executing his plan to bring the Legions of two other worlds in to help them, using – get this – the crystal ball that the Justice League used to contact the Justice Society from Earth-2 in Justice League of America #21 back in 1963.

(Aside: Okay, the multiverse continuity at DC is completely screwed up at this point, but this does seem to suggest that the classic Legion shown here is not from New Earth, but it from some other Earth-1, since the JLA from New Earth would have had no need to contact the JSA from Earth-2, since New Earth already has a JLA! No doubt Geoff Johns thought using the crystal ball was just a neat in-joke, though, rather than an actual clue as to the current state of things.)

Other than the obligatory in-fighting among the teams (used to comedic effect among the Brainiacs here), it’s hard to imagine a single Legion of Super-Villains putting up much of a fight against them. Only Prime, Validus, Earth-Man and Mordru have any hope of standing up to the heavy hitters. So presumably there’s going to be something else going on to complicate matters.

Pérez’s artwork is terrific, as always. I’m especially impressed with how he makes the classic Legion look like adults, while the other Legions are still kids; they’re all recognizably the same characters, yet all distinctive. You’d think most artists would be able to do this, but no one equals Pérez when it comes to this sort of stuff. Legion of 3 Worlds doesn’t quite measure up to his JLA/Avengers work, but it’s still outstanding.

Guardians of the Galaxy #5 Despite being a Secret Invasion (yawn) tie-in, Guardians of the Galaxy is still really cool: Drax kills everyone on the space station the Guardians are based on (which is the severed head of a Celestial floating beyond the edge of the universe), because that’s the easiest way to find out who the shape-shifting Skrulls on the station are, because when they die, they change back to their natural form, right? Fortunately, in this case death wears off after a little while, and it turns out the Skrulls aren’t what everyone assumes they are, and Cosmo, the station’s telepathic Russian canine security chief, persuades everyone of who they are. (Touch little pooch!)

And then everything hits the fan when the other Guardians find out what Star-Lord has been up to in founding the team, and Mantis reveals that the future she’d divined has gone off the rails – probably because of the arrival of Vance Astro and Starhawk from the 31st century Guardians.

More fanboy wanking? Unlike Legion of 3 Worlds, this series is basically self-contained, and I think it can be understood and enjoyed by people who aren’t familiar with the backstories of the characters – it might even be more fun for those readers. With this series, Abnett and Lanning are proving to be first-rate ideasmiths; I just hope they can be given enough latitude away from the cockamamie event tie-ins to really put on a show in this series.

Astonishing X-Men #27 Astonishing X-Men hasn’t been especially astonishing, but Warren Ellis does his best to make it entertaining by writing some of the funniest dialogue I’ve read in superhero comics in recent memory. For example:

Cyclops: What’ve you got?

Wolverine: Something from the bad old days, maybe.

Cyclops: Logan, this is us. The “bad old days” could be as recent as three weeks ago.

Or, when the Beast – a half-human, half-cat mutant – is talking to Cyclops with his girlfriend, Agent Brand, who I guess is an alien:

Beast: …Actually, what are you? “Girlfriend” doesn’t sound quite…

Brand: “Xenophiliac experimentation partner”?

Beast: […] Girlfriend.

Anyway, the story is shaping up to involve mutants from parallel worlds, and mutants impacted by the climax of House of M, when the Scarlet Witch turned most mutants back into normal humans. Ellis gets high marks for being an ideasmith himself, and I am enjoying the dialogue. He always seems to keep corporate-owned characters like the X-Men at arm’s length, though, so it’s hard to feel like we really know these characters. But at least this promises to be an interesting mystery and adventure.

This Week’s Haul

  • Action Comics #870, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC)
  • Avengers/Invaders #5 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Steve Sadowski & Patrick Berkenkotter (Marvel)
  • The Twelve #8 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski & Chris Weston (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: The Warning #4 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • The End League #5, by Rick Remender & Eric Canete (Dark Horse)
Action Comics #870 This month’s Action Comics wraps up the “Brainiac” story. And boy howdy did it limp to the finish.

I haven’t really paid much attention to Superman’s continuity since the days when Mike Carlin was editing the series (once Roger Stern, Dan Jurgens, George Pérez and Jerry Ordway left the series, there wasn’t much left to keep me around), but this story returns Brainiac to something close to his Silver Age self: He’s not truly a robot anymore, but he’s still an alien who goes around shrinking and collecting cities from different worlds to own their knowledge – and then destroying that world afterwards. (How this jibes with other recent incarnations of Brainiac – which are mentioned in the story – I don’t know.) Here he comes to Earth and shrinks Metropolis before Superman stops him and rescues the city. He also rescues the Kryptonian city of Kandor, which grows to full size in the Arctic.

Where to begin with what a misfire this whole story was? It consisted of about eight scenes stretched over five issues – an example of “decompressed storytelling” taken to an absurd extreme. In days past, this story could have easily been told in a single issue, or maybe two issues, with some extra character development thrown in. Today you pay 15 bucks for all five issues, which might be worth it if you really love Gary Frank’s artwork. (I think Frank can be great, but his work on Superman has been a mixed bag.) But it’s basically Frank’s art with a sentence or two of story every 3 or 4 pages.

There’s not much original or inventive here, either: It’s really just Superman fighting Brainiac and finally taking him out. It feels like – and basically is – just a lead-in to the next Superman story, “New Krypton”, about what happens when thousands of Kryptonians arrive on Earth, courtesy of Kandor. That’s the sort of story which could be very interesting if kept to a small enough scope, but it looks like it’s going to be a big “event” story across multiple titles, which interests me not at all, so this might be it for me reading Action Comics. What little characterization there is comes in Supergirl’s few scenes, where she’s scared spitless by the arrival of the creature which stole Kandor, yet still has to pitch in to stop him.

Finally, as has been widely rumored, the issue ends with the apparent death of Jonathan Kent (what, again?). I find the depictions of the Kents in this story to be very weird: Neither Jonathan nor Martha looks anything like they have back when I read the books; they both seem younger and fitter. And Jonathan’s death here seems gratuitous at best, and also nonsensical (why would Brainiac care?). Is it trying to dovetail with the Smallville TV series? And if so, why bother, since that series ran off the rails several years ago and seems to be limping towards its own cancellation.

Overall, this was an exceedingly weak story, and everything it accomplished I don’t care about anyway, as it seems gratuitous, or pointless, or a set-up for another story that I really don’t care about. Any dramatic potential in this story was completely squandered. Honestly it makes me regret continuing following the series after “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes”. What a waste.

The Twelve #8 Somewhere along the way, Garry Leach stopped inking Chris Weston’s pencils on The Twelve, but I only noticed it this month while typing in the credits above. Having Weston ink himself doesn’t really affect the art, which you could argue meant Leach didn’t really contribute anything, or you could argue that Leach did the job an inker should do and let Weston’s talents show through. I guess it depends what you think the job of an inker is. Anyway, I think each Weston and Leach are fine artists, and I’m happy for new material from either one. So really, no complaints from me either way.

All that aside, The Twelve is one of the best comics Marvel’s publishing, and one of J. Michael Straczynski’s best comic book stories to date, as well. We’re now two-thirds of the way through the story and some of the mysteries behind the characters are starting to come together. It looks like Master Mind Excello is starting to manipulate things, but to what end we don’t know. And the Black Widow’s back story, presented here, is quite good. Straczynski’s stories have a tendency to sputter out amongst a lot of cutesy dialogue, but none of his frequently weaknesses are apparent here, and I’m enthusiastic to see where this is going.

The End League #5 Speaking of comics which have gone off the rails, I just don’t get Rick Remender’s series The End League Okay, I get the premise: A large fraction of the world gets super-powers (this was back in the 60s), only most people aren’t really interested in using them for good, and in the ensuing series of world wars among evil or corrupt super-humans, the few heroes ultimately lose. It’s a solid premise and the first two issues – concerning Astonishman’s remaining group of superheroes and their futile war against Dead Lexington’s empire – were pretty good. But since then it’s meandered all over the place without a storyline I can follow, and jumping from one character to another.

As a series of vignettes, each slice is not bad, but where’s it going? What’s the point? This issue starts with a flashback to World War II, and then flashes forward to another hero entering a city in yet another attempt to reclaim the Hammer of Thor, this time with a Batman-vs.-Joker spin on things. I’m not sure if this means that the last of the End League got killed off after the events of issue #4, or what. But there are no characters here who provide a consistent point of view for me to plug in to; it’s more like an ongoing travelogue of the broken world through the eyes of many different characters, none of whom stick around long enough to be more than stereotypes. The whole is less than the sum of its parts.

This issue also marks the change of the artists from Mat Broome to Eric Canete. Broome had a fairly realistic and detailed style, while Canete’s is more stylized and sketchy. My preference is for Broome, so I don’t see this as an improvement.

So, not being sure where this is going, and not being convinced that it’s even going anywhere, I don’t know how much longer I’ll stick with it.

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

  • The Brave and the Bold: The Book of Destiny HC, by Mark Waid, George Pérez, Jerry Ordway, Bob Wiacek & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #18, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Jerry Ordway, Mick Gray, Kris Justice & Nathan Massengill (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #45, by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul & Livesay (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #3, by Matt Wagner & Amy Reeder Hadley (DC/Vertigo)
  • Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #1 of 2, by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • newuniversal: Conqueror #1, by Simon Spurrier & Eric Nguyen (Marvel)
  • Nova #16, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
The Brave and the Bold vol 2: The Book of Destiny Although I loved the first volume in Mark Waid and George Pérez’s The Brave and the Bold (The Lords of Luck), I was not nearly as enthusiastic about the second one. Although The Book of Destiny reads better in collected form than as individual issues, it still shows all of its warts: It’s got a hodge-podge of characters thrown together for shakier-than-usual reasons (Ultraman?), and a plot whose villain’s motivation feels insufficiently crafted, with a sudden reversal at the end which also doesn’t work for me. But the big problem is that Waid’s characterizations – usually his strong suit – fail him badly here. His depiction of Power Girl in the first chapter is about as ham-handed as I can recall seeing, and the Flash/Doom Patrol story also features one-note characterizations which often feel contrived and out-of-place.

The best story in the volume is the short Hawkman/Atom yarn, although the beginning of the Superman/Ultraman one is pretty funny. And of course Pérez’s artwork is great, as usual, and if you’re losing George Pérez in the middle of a story – as happened here – you can’t do much better than replacing him with Jerry Ordway, who gets to pencil the finale.

It’s the artwork that motivated me to pick up the hardcover of this – well, that and the fact that I already owned the first volume in hardcover – but anyone else who wants to read the back half of the Waid/Pérez run on this title would probably do better to wait for the (cheaper) paperback. Overall, it was a big disappointment compared to the terrific first half.

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1 Superman Beyond 3D is a 2-part story spinning out of Final Crisis #3, in which a Monitor, Zilla Vallo, plucks Superman from the side of Lois Lane’s hospital bed to take him outside reality on a quest to save her. She’s recruited several of his counterparts from parallel worlds to help: Ultraman, Captain Marvel, Overman (from a world in which the Nazis won World War II) and Quantum Superman (based on a combination of Captain Atom and Doctor Manhattan, it seems like). They end up in limbo – the place where forgotten characters go to live forever in obscurity – and learn about their nemesis, Mandrakk.

I’ve been pretty down on Final Crisis so far, and unfortunately this issue fits right in with that: It’s a bunch of gosh-wow stuff thrown together so that it makes no sense. Why bring together the five Supermen? Who thought bringing in Ultraman would be a good idea? (Although if you’re an Ultraman fan, that means you can get a double dose this week.) What exactly are they supposed to accomplish? Who is Zilla Vallo and why is this her fight? Why go to limbo? To be fair, it’s the first issue and arguably Morrison is going to explain it all in the second issue. Unfortunately, his track record suggests that a lot of it won’t be explained at all, it’s just there for the gosh-wow factor, but that’s not the reaction it gets from me.

Much of it also feels like old territory, too. The form of Limbo is certainly old news, whether it feels like it’s from Morrison’s own Animal Man of 20 years ago, or the Supremacy from Alan Moore’s Supreme, and in any event it feels a lot like the Bizarro world from All-Star Superman, and the concept seems like just a more depressing version of . Morrison references the Bleed, which is a Warren Ellis interpretation of the multiverse, and Morrison doesn’t add anything new to it here. And on top of this we have the silliness with some pages being in 3-D – a pair of 3-D glasses are included – which adds nothing to the story. (At least it wasn’t all in 3-D, or I’d have passed on it entirely.)

So the story isn’t very much. The art is sometimes very good, and sometimes rather iffy. I think I liked Doug Mahnke’s work best back when he was drawing The Mask, since his sense of shape and form gave his books a very solid feel, the exact opposite of the Image style which was prevalent in those days. He’s changed quite a bit since then, working more with shadows and layouts, and I think it hasn’t been a change for the better. Some of his pages look great – especially the two-page spread in which Zilla Vallo contacts Superman – but others look very awkward: Any page in which a character is grimacing or gasping or shouting or gritting their teeth, and their faces just look deeply unnatural (which means that Ultraman always looks unnatural).

It’s weird to think that Grant Morrison, who’s usually one of the more innovative ideas men in comics, seems to be retracing the steps of Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, and himself, but that seems to be what’s happening. But this could still be a pretty good story, except that Morrison seems to have lost sight of giving the readers a reason to care. Superman’s supposedly doing this to save Lois, but what ‘this’ is he doing? And the adventure is all too metaphysical to have any emotional resonance (not really surprising, as emotional resonance has never been Morrison’s strong suit). Is this story really going to matter? My guess is no.

newuniversal: Conqueror newuniversal: Conqueror is another one-shot providing background to Warren Ellis’ newuniversal series, this one taking place in 2689 B.C., when a White Event has given several individuals in this primitive world the powers of the New Universe heroes we’re seeing play out in the main title. In this story, one of the empowered characters has gone badly wrong, and he’s manipulating the others for his own end, to the detriment of the timeline. The beings from outside the timeline are trying to warn the others, and this issue is mostly about the Star Brand character – the Conqueror of the title – trying to figure out what’s going on.

It’s a story of small scope, and it works on those terms, although I found the ending to be too abrupt and unsatisfying. Eric Nguyen’s art has a sketchy quality to it, but it works for me in the gloomy atmosphere it brings to the story – although as with many artists these days (it seems), he needs to work on drawing background so the story doesn’t seem like it’s taking place in mid-air.

newuniversal is quietly becoming one of the more intriguing mainstream comics. I hope Ellis keeps with it and sees it through to a conclusion. (Of course, I’m still waiting for that last issue of Planetary…)

This Week’s Haul

A small week, but one chock-full of geeky goodness. Which seems fitting, since this is my 500th post to Fascination Place!

  • The Brave and the Bold #16, by Mark Waid & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #1 of 5, by Geoff Johns, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #6 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Jamal Ingle & Robin Riggs, and Ron Marz, Fernando Pasarin & Scott McKenna (DC)
  • Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man vol 101 HC, collecting Amazing Spider-Man #88-99, by Stan Lee, John Romita & Gil Kane (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #4, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
The Brave and the Bold #16 Mark Waid’s run on The Brave and the Bold comes to a quiet end with a decent team-up of Superman and Catwoman. I’m not a big fan of Scott Kolins’ artwork these days – it seems like it’s getting increasingly less polished in its finishes, which I find rather off-putting – but it’s okay. The series never quite recovered from its stumbles starting with issue #7, nor the loss of George Pérez’s artwork, so it feels like it kind of limped to a finish. The first 6-issue story was terrific, though.

But the series is continuing with some fill-ins by Marv Wolfman, and then I guess J. Michael Straczynski is going to be the next regular writer. It’ll be interesting to see how that turns out, since Straczynski is a very low-key writer (in his comics work, anyway) and B&B always feels like it should be full of bombast and improbable, wild creativity.

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #1 If ever there was a series made for fanboys, it’s Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds. Boy, where to even begin? Well to start with, it’s drawn by George Pérez, who’s probably my favorite comics artist ever, and who’s noted for packing an amazing amount of detail into each panel, but who’s hardly ever drawn the Legion of Super-Heroes (nor, often, Superman). And the art is just gorgeous, as you’d expect.

The story all by itself has so many back-references to the history of the Legion and this decade’s DC continuity that anyone unfamiliar with it probably isn’t part of the target audience: The Time Trapper plucks Superboy Prime out of the time stream in the wake of the Sinestro Corps War and sends him to the 31st century, where the world is picking up the pieces in the wake of the defeat of Earth-Man during the recent Action Comics story “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes”. Prime visits the Superman Museum, where he learns about the Legion and how Superman – whom he hates – inspired the team and the creation of the United Planets, and also about the Legion of Super-Villains, whom he breaks out of prison to they can help him tear down everything Superman inspired.

Meanwhile, the Legion are being interrogated by the UP’s governing body, since many of them feel the Legion is no longer needed. Their one-time backer, R.J. Brande, shows up to speak in support of them, and it seems to be working, until he’s abruptly murdered, and the fact that he’s actually a Durlan is publicly revealed. This throws the UP into chaos. Other Legionnaires are busy finding and/or rescuing their missing teammates, but several of them can’t be found. Amidst all of this, they find out about Prime’s missing, and they summon Superman from the 20th century. Brainiac 5 reasons that the best way to fight the villains is to recruit their counterparts from two parallel worlds, and while Superman thinks that will help, he also thinks that Prime can’t merely be stopped, nor should he be killed, but that they need to find some way to redeem him, to bring him back to the hero he was during the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

If that made your head spin, then this series might not be for you, but as a longtime Legion fan, I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Now, to enjoy it you do basically have to avoid worrying about continuity, as there are continuity errors all over the place, and I assume it’s because Geoff Johns just didn’t want to bother dealing with all the little details which would prevent it from being a fun story, not least because he clearly wants to tell a story about the Legion he grew up with. Just a few of the differences I spotted:

  • The “classic” Legion clearly spins off from the end of Paul Levitz’ run on the book, and Keith Giffen’s “Five Years Later” stories never took place. For instance, the Legion remembers Superman as having been a member, so the Pocket Universe stories never took place, and Mon-El is his original self, rather than his FYL “Valor” self. I think FYL started out strong but fizzled after half a year or so, so I don’t mind this being pushed out of continuity.
  • The panel depicting the Zero Hour rebooted Legion shows some characters who are dead in that continuity, such as Monstress and Leviathan.
  • The Mark Waid/Barry Kitson Legion (the one currently being depicted in the ongoing Legion series) shows Supergirl as a member, even though she departed a while ago.
  • Superboy Prime is still Superboy, even though he’d had adventures as Superman Prime during Countdown – another example of Countdown being basically willfully disregarded by later series (which isn’t such a bad thing, as it was awful).

There are a lot of interesting things that bringing the three Legions could result in. For instance, maybe one of them is the Legion of Earth 2. Or having characters meet who are substantially different among the worlds, such as Princess Projectra and Sensor. I don’t expect them to clear up which Karate Kid stayed in the 20th century at the end of “The Lightning Saga”, though. Honestly I don’t think anyone at DC editorial has any idea why they bothered with that plot thread, anyway, since it ended up going nowhere.

The biggest risk the series runs is that of not just having a single large cast of Legionnaires, but three of them, and characterization getting lost in the shuffle – always a risk with any Legion series. But the most encouraging thing is Superman’s stated goal at the end of the issue: Not to just to stop Prime, but to redeem him. I’ve been pretty unhappy with how this character has been treated, and finding a way to redeem him would be a challenge well worthy of a 5-issue series illustrated by George Pérez. Here’s hoping Geoff Johns can pull it off; he’s off to a good start.

(Oh, one more thing: There’s no apparent connection between this series and Final Crisis that I can see. Maybe they’ll work it in there somehow, but I rather hope it ends up standing on its own.)

Anyway, yes, I’m a big Legion geek. I don’t think that “my” Legion will ever truly appear again, but I do enjoy reading good Legion stories.

Guardians of the Galaxy #4 Guardians of the Galaxy is saddled with a Secret Invasion crossover in its 4th issue, much like Nova got stuck with an Annihilation: Conquest crossover in its 4th, but this one makes even less sense since the Guardians don’t operate on Earth, which is where the invasion is taking place! but Abnett & Lanning play a neat trick by locking the Guardians on their extradimensional home base of Knowhere, and revealing that there are shape-shifting Skrulls infiltrating that place, too! Plus, the Guardians find that many inhabitants of Knowhere don’t really trust or like them, and a couple of the Guardians members are acting a little oddly. From the issue’s last panel, it looks like things are really going to blow up next month, so this might be pretty good as non-crossover crossover stories go. If nothing else, DnA are taking every opportunity to keep advancing the Guardians’ own story in the middle of all this.