- The Brave and the Bold #22, by David Hine, Doug Braithwaite & Bill Reinhold (DC)
- Tangent: Superman’s Reign #12 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Carlos Magno & Julio Ferreira (DC)
- Guardians of the Galaxy #10, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker, Victor Olazaba & Livesay (Marvel)
- Invincible #59, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
- 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)
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.
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.)
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.
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:
(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…
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.
Comic books I bought the week of 19 March 2008.
- Batman: The Killing Joke HC, by Alan Moore & Brian Bolland (DC)
- The Brave and the Bold #11, by Mark Waid, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
- Countdown to Final Crisis #6 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, Mike Norton & Jimmy Palmiotti (DC)
- The Death of the New Gods #7 of 8, by Jim Starlin & Art Thibert (DC)
- Ex Machina #35, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
- Fables #71, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
- Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Hourman and The Python vol 6 TPB, by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis & Warren Pleece (DC)
- Tangent: Superman’s Reign #1 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Matthew Clark & Fernando Pasarin (DC)
- Marvel Masterworks: Captain America vol 93 HC, collecting Captain America #114-124, by Stan Lee, Gene Colan, John Romita, John Buscema, Sal Buscema & Joe Sinnott (Marvel)
- Thor #7, by J. Michael Straczynski, Mark Djurdjevic & Danny Miki (Marvel)
- Invincible #49, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Batman: The Killing Joke was arguably Alan Moore’s last really major contribution to comics, coming in 1988 which puts it right on the heels of Watchmen. Originally a “prestige format” graphic novel (which meant it was on nicer paper and was squarebound, but otherwise not much longer than your typical comic), it’s been reissued in a 20th-anniversary deluxe hardcover edition, recolored by artist Brian Bolland. It’s a very nice package.
It’s a pretty good story, a hard-hitting look at the Joker’s psyche and why he acts like he does. It provides an origin of sorts for the character – a twisted variant of his Silver Age “Red Hood” origin – without committing to it. In the story, the Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and cripples his daughter Barbara in order to prove a point about his sanity (or lack thereof) to Batman. The ending is perhaps a little too cute for its own good, but all-in-all it’s a good story with terrific art by Bolland. It’s told in a manner very similar to that of Watchmen with clever scene transitions and a restrained, “realistic” layout. Moore also lets some of Batman’s heroism show through, which I appreciate since I can’t stand the psychopathic character he’s become since the publication of The Dark Knight Returns.
The crippling of Barbara Gordon – the Bronze Age Batgirl – has been controversial, since female characters often seem to get tortured to “prove a point” to or about the male heroes (c.f. Women in Refrigerators). Barbara’s character was rehabilitated by turning her into Oracle, the computer-savvy mastermind behind the Birds of Prey series (also providing tech support for Grant Morrison’s JLA). In isolation, the event is brutal and effective in this story; in a larger context it does feel rather cliché. It’s worth noting that it’s now been nearly as long (20 years) since Barbara was crippled than the time (22 years) that she served as Batgirl. Generations of comics fans (as comics generations are measured) have grown up knowing her only as Oracle (unless they watched the Batman animated series); at what point does her current persona become her defining one?
Anyway. It’s a good story, influential mainly in how it defined and changed several of its characters, less so than for its storytelling. And the art is beautiful.
Speaking of relatively brutal comic book series, Sandman Mystery Theatre was a noir-ish detective/superhero/thriller series set in 1930s New York which ran for 70 issues in the 1990s. I picked up the first 8 issues (the first 2 story arcs) and then dropped it, mainly because I wasn’t a fan of Guy Davis’ artwork in the first arc, and I liked his replacement in the second arc even less. DC has been collecting the series in paperback form, and I was moved to pick them up and try it again. Not only does it read much better in collected form than as individual issues, but I’ve warmed to Davis’ artwork (large noses on his characters and all) and it turns out he does most of the drawing in the series. With this volume, number 6, we reach the halfway point in the series.
Wesley Dodds is a rich man-about-town who is tortured by dreams of killers, and who at night puts on a gas mask and employs a gun of sleep gas of his own making and hunts down these killers, even though he’s often at odds with the police. Besides this adventure, SMT is also a romance, following Dodds and Dian Beaumont gradually falling in love and moving towards their lifelong relationship. Dian is a strong adventurous woman, a little out-of-place with the societal roles her position forces her to play. She’s also deeply conflicted about Wes’s nocturnal habits, which she’s well aware of by the time of this volume. The tentative dance the two engage in, two steps forward and one step back with each arc, is agonizing and yet delicately crafted.
The adventure ain’t bad, either. The first arc in this volume features Hourman, another golden age hero, who joins with Sandman to catch some jewel thieves. Hourman’s superhuman powers are cleverly portrayed, showing them obliquely to make their full impact greater when he does something truly remarkable. The second story, The Python, is one of the more routine tales in the series, regarding some mysterious stranglings around the city.
If you find run-of-the-mill superhero comics dull, but would be interested in some mystery and romance to go with the adventure, then I recommend this series.
(Incidentally, there was a sequel mini-series published a year or so go, which I didn’t care for at all. It bore very little resemblance to this one in style or theme, so I don’t recommend it. A better coda to the series is a story arc of James Robinson’s excellent Starman series, collected in the volume Sand and Stars.)
One of the more fun mini-series of the last 20 years was Tangent Comics. Tangent was created to fill a “skip week”; you see, most comics are published monthly, but comics ship every week. This means that four months each year there’s an extra week, so companies have the choice of spreading out their offerings across five weeks in those months, or producing some new material. For a little while, DC comics would publish some new material to fill the “skip week”, and the best of these was Tangent.
The premise was that an entirely new world was created under the oversight of Dan Jurgens, completely unrelated to any of DC’s other properties, except that the names of the characters and places and things would be re-used in completely new contexts. So in this world The Atom was a series of Superman-like figures who descended from a man who gained powers from early A-bomb tests. His presence caused Cuba to nuke the southeastern United States in 1962, resulting in even more super-beings, as well as New Atlantis, a futuristic city built on the site of Atlanta. The original set of comics were all snapshots of this world, with insight into its past and perhaps its ultimate future and doom. It was very clever and entertaining, well-written and well-drawn. The setting was re-used a year later in a second set of titles, which were considerably less enjoyable, re-imagining the “big three” heroes Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, in each case in a rather unimaginative manner (the Wonder Woman issue was especially noxious), and some redux issues of characters from the first series. Ultimately it felt like an attempt to “cash in” on the original concept, and predictably (and deservedly) the series disappeared after this second set of issues.
Now, ten years later, Tangent is back in Tangent Comics: Superman’s Reign, as one of the worlds in the new DC Multiverse (as Earth-9), and the Justice League is going to visit their world, which it turns out has been subjugated by their Superman figure, a superevolved human who I assume thinks he was doing the world a favor by taking it over and imposing his own order on it. A 12-issue series feels somehow like overkill, and integrating it with the Justice League sort of takes away some of what was special about Tangent, but it could still work out. The set-up here is pretty decent, and Matthew Clark’s got a clean line and pretty dynamic sense of layout. If writer Jurgens can get back to what made the first series fun and establish it once again as its own thing, not truly beholden to the main DC Universe, then this could be a good series. If it ends up being caught up in the Final Crisis muddle or falls apart storywise midway through, then it will probably be entirely forgettable.
But I’m going in with some optimism, because my memories of the first batch of Tangent Comics still burn brightly in my mind.
This month’s Thor wins the award for “hardest-to-spell creator names” for the month – maybe the year. Straczynski, Djurdjevic, Eliopoulos, Arbona, and even Danny Miki. Ye gads.
The story is still ridiculously slow, though. This issue is mostly a flashback one, in which Odin relates a tale from his youth while Thor is visiting him in the afterlife. That’s pretty much all you need to know, since nothing’s really happened in several issues.