Comic books I bought the week of 28 December 2007.
This week’s entry revolves around a trio of writers, all of whom have been in the industry for more than 30 years.
- Action Comics #860, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC)
- The Brave and the Bold #9, by Mark Waid, George Pérez, Bob Wiacek & Scott Koblish (DC)
- Countdown to Final Crisis #18 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Keith Giffen & Scott Kolins (DC)
- Countdown to Adventure #5 of 8, by Adam Beechen, Allan Goldman & Julio Ferreira and Justin Gray, Fabrizio Fiorentino & Adam DeKraker (DC)
- The Death of the New Gods #4 of 8, by Jim Starlin & Art Thibert (DC)
- Legion of Super-Heroes #37, by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul & Livesay (DC)
- Thor #5, by J. Michael Straczynski, Oliver Coipel & Mark Morales (Marvel)
- Atom Eve #1 of 2, by Benito Cereno & Nate Bellegarde (Image)
Countdown to Final Crisis has maybe its best issue yet, as the whereabouts of Ray Palmer (the original Atom) are revealed, including the backstory of what he’s been up to, an explanation of why the Atom – of all people – is important to the well-being of the multiverse (hint: he’s a scientist) and even ending on a surprising cliffhanger. I guess you can read this issue in one of two ways: Either that it’s sad that it took 35 issues for something to actually get resolved, such that the reader wonders why all the fuss was necessary, or else it’s an indication of Keith Giffen‘s influence as “story consultant” telling head writer Paul Dini and the editors to get on with it already. I’m not always Giffen’s biggest fan (I don’t have much good to say about his run on Legion of Super-Heroes with Paul Levitz in the 80s, for instance), but if nothing else he has a traditional approach to storytelling: Start off with a big event and keep the story moving from there. And that’s what’s really been missing from Countdown, which started slowly and then nothing happened for half the series.
It may be too little, too late to save this series, but at least there are signs of life.
Jim Starlin is another guy who even when he’s not at the top of his game can usually be counted on to get the fundamentals of storytelling, and he’s coming through in The Death of the New Gods. I expressed my reservations about the whole New Gods thing when the series started, but it’s actually turning out to be entertaining, and I think it’s because it’s not a New Gods story, it’s a Jim Starlin story.
Starlin often likes to have a big mystery in his stories, and here it’s the big question: Who’s killing the New Gods? Metron comes face-to-face with what is presumably either a giant clue, or the answer itself, but my lack-of-caring about the New Gods means that it means nothing to me. That could be the series’ fatal flaw as far as I’m concerned, but with 4 issues left, no doubt Starlin has a lot more up his sleeve.
The other interesting development is that while the story so far has focused on Mister Miracle, Starlin is setting it up to end up as a Superman story, which makes sense if the series lives up to its title: Superman might be the only one left to witness the death of these powerful beings. Starlin doesn’t often play around with structure in his stories, so I’m curious to see where he takes this angle.
After 30 years, Jim Shooter returns to write Legion of Super-Heroes. His last issue was Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #224 back in 1977, since when he done little things like be Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics during the 1980s. The word on the street is that there was tremendous opposition to Shooter getting this writing gig – he’s reportedly made a lot of enemies in the comics biz – but as a fan I say “Good for him!”
Greg Burgas has a pretty good review of the issue as a reader who (unlike me) isn’t much of a Legion fan: Shooter introduces the characters along with some of their personalities, and starts setting up a large storyline about aliens invading the solar system, only no one knows who they are, and the Legion is both in disarray thanks to having an unexperienced leader (Lightning Lad, who’s filling the shoes of Cosmic Boy and Supergirl, both of whom have left the team) and a strained relationship with the United Planets. Joe McCulloch makes some good points too regarding the awkward dialogue in the story, with the supposedly-teenaged characters coming across as if they ought to seem “hip” or “futuristic”, but instead just seem silly.
I say “supposedly-teenaged” because there’s always been a bit of nudge-nudge-wink-wink-wink about teenaged superheroes, especially the Legion and the X-Men, who always seem smarter, wiser and more responsible than the vast majority of people their age. Very few writers ever make even a passing attempt to either explain this peculiarity or run with it as a story point. Anyway, I bring all this up because new artist Francis Manapul gives the characters some beefed-up physiques (see cover at left), making it even harder to take them seriously as anything younger than young adults.
Despite these kvetches, this is a pretty good start: There’s nothing here that can’t be seen as a writer trying to get a feel for the characters in his first issue, while setting up an ambitious story. Seeing Lightning Lad get overwhelmed so quickly, without someone right there to help him keep things under control is really my biggest beef with the story. Manapul’s pencils are pretty good, although Livesay’s inks might work better if they pulled the pencils in a more classic, rather than Image-esque, direction – someone with a heavier line to provide more depth and delineation.
As Burgas says, the issue feels like Shooter is basically throwing a whole bunch of stuff in the air and we’ll have to see where it lands. However, signalling that this is going to be an ambitious story arc is a great way to make the reader reserve judgment on the inaugural issue. I’m definitely interested in seeing what Shooter’s got planned, and I certainly hope that he’s given every opportunity to get his bearing and produce a decent run on Legion. And if the Legion is the sort of comic that interests you, then you might want to check it out.
Comic books I bought the week of 17 October 2007.
Wow, was this a big week:
- Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #57, by Tad Williams & Shawn McManus (DC)
- The Brave and the Bold #7 by Mark Waid, George Pérez & Bob Wiacek(DC)
- Countdown #28 of 52 (backwards) by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Al Barrionuevo & Art Thibert (DC)
- The Death of the New Gods #1 of 8 by Jim Starlin & Matt Banning (DC)
- Ex Machina #31, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
- SHAZAM: The Monster Society of Evil HC, by Jeff Smith (DC)
- Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers vol 84 HC, collecting The Avengers #59-68, by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Gene Colan & Barry Smith (Marvel)
- Primordia #1 of 3 by John R. Fultz & Roel Wielinga (Archaia)
- The Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite #2 of 6 by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
- The Boys #11 by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
So the latest Aquaman series comes to an end, with neither a whimper nor a bang. Both writers Kurt Busiek and Tad Williams took their sweet time developing the background of Arthur Curry, the new Aquaman, though at least Williams managed to tie up all the loose ends of previous writers in the series (although he left a few of his own). Although I was disappointed with Shawn McManus’ evolution of his art style as we saw in this series, it was overall enjoyable enough.
Aquaman has become something of a joke when talking about big-name superheroes. “Wow, he can swim and talk to fish, what a maroon!” “He can’t keep his own series, why does anyone bother?” “Okay, he was decent when Peter David and Grant Morrison were writing him, but otherwise he’s such a wuss!” And yet, DC keeps trying and trying with him, and his series actually last a pretty long time, as series go:
- 4-issue mini-series by Neil Pozner and Craig Hamilton from 1986 is very well regarded.
- 5-issue mini-series in 1989 paved the way for:
- 13-issue series from 1991-1992. While this didn’t do so well, it wasn’t long before we got the:
- 77-issue series from 1994-2000, which was first written by Peter David (this is when Aquaman lost his hand) and had an interesting denouement by Dan Jurgens and Steve Epting.
- Finally, the current series launched in 2003 and lasted 57 issues with at least 4 distinct creative teams in 2 changes in direction.
A lot of characters would kill to have that amount of exposure over the last 20 years. So Aquaman might be something of a joke to some fans, but clearly there’s some market out there for him. I bet he’ll have his own series again before the decade is out.
Although I lovedlovedloved the first 6-issue story in The Brave and the Bold, issue #7 fell completely flat for me, and the main reason was the characterization: Power Girl came off as a complete clod, and seemed completely out-of-character. Power Girl to me is strong and assertive, yes, but she’s not head strong and mindlessly aggressive as Mark Waid portrays her here. While she’s willing – even happy – to punch things when punching is necessary, and she can get frustrated at times, she’s often entirely reasonable and quite thoughtful, none of which is in evidence here. Instead she’s played as a humorous contrast to Wonder Woman, for whom Waid plays up the peaceful, reasonable side as she tries to keep Power Girl from going off half-cocked. Neither heroine comes off well in this story.
And the story itself is a one-issue tale which ties in obliquely to the Book of Destiny from the first storyline, and since it’s a pretty lightweight adventure, the characterization missteps means it really doesn’t work at all. It has a few of Waid’s trademark neat ideas, but that’s truly too little, too late. It’s a big disappointment.
Once upon a time there was a comics artist named Jack Kirby who created some pretty amazing characters, stories and artwork at a little up-and-coming company called Marvel Comics. In the 1970s he found himself disagreeing with some of Marvel’s policies and directions so strongly that he left the company that had been built on the back of his labor and moved to DC Comics, the heavyweight in the industry at the time. There he was given practically carte blanche to create a bold new direction for DC, although he mostly had to work around the established characters to do so. Although I think his ride there was a lot bumpier than he’d hoped, he still created dozens of characters and a milieu often referred to as the Fourth World, a world of gods, demons, scientists, monsters, and men from the past, present and future.
Although I realize many people have a fondness for Kirby’s 70s work at DC – which was essentially his swan song as a major creative force in the industry – frankly I think it was pretty awful stuff. As an artist and designer, Kirby was well past his prime, and his art looked pretty comical compared to his heyday at Marvel. He handled the scripting duties for many of his books, a task for which he was especially poorly suited – his dialogue at its best seems stilted, and often it just seems ridiculous. But worst of all, all the characters are basically just dumb. Darkseid is about as generic a villain as exists in mainstream comics, of all the New Gods only Mister Miracle is at all interesting (and he’s saddled with that ridiculous red-yellow-and-green outfit), and the various ancillary creations (OMAC, Kamandi, Project Cadmus, etc.) were not much good, either, feeling dated soon after they appeared. (John Byrne is a fan of almost everything Kirby’s done and keeps reviving Kirby’s 70s creations. While his OMAC mini-series was excellent, his other such revivals have been dodgy at best, in my opinion. In particular the integral use of Darkseid and company in his Generations III series really crushed the life out of its story, I thought.)
All of which brings us to Jim Starlin’s Death of the New Gods, which is either an idea whose time has come, or one of the supreme pointless endeavors in DC history. Maybe both. The story spins out of Countdown (a bad start right there) in which at least one New God has died, and the carnage starts right quick in this first issue, with one of the major New Gods being taken down in the first cliffhanger (to the dismay and anger of some).
Starlin was one of the best writers around at one time; his Dreadstar series was one of the best comics of the 80s. But I think those days are long past, as I’m hard-pressed to think of a series he’s done in recent years which set the world (well, my world, anyway) on fire, especially when he’s playing with corporate characters rather than his own creations. Death of the New Gods starts off being more portentious than exciting, and though it will play out over 8 issues, the combination of irrelevant characters and a writer/artist who I think is no longer at the top of his game, as well as the tie-in with a weak maxi-series “event”, doesn’t bode well for it being much good, and the leisurely pace of the first issue doesn’t help, either.
Jeff Smith is the creator of one of the best independent comics of the 90s, Bone. His latest project is SHAZAM!: The Monster Society of Evil, a new take on the classic Captain Marvel character, starting with his origin and his first adventure. Smith is so earnest and bring so much energy to his work that the sheer enthusiasm behind the book makes it a joy to read, and as always his artwork is terrific.
The story does falter in places. For instance, Captain Marvel seems to be a separate person from Billy Batson, but he sometimes acts like he’s inexperienced, and it’s not clear what’s going on. Also, Sivana makes a valuable deduction, but there’s no sign of how he does it – arguably he got tipped off, but that’s pretty weak reasoning. And the plans of the Monster Society don’t really make a whole lot of sense – why do they have to wait so long, and meet such byzantine conditions, to do what they want? I guess Smith is just trying to evoke the sense of relative silliness of the original Captain Marvel stories from the 1940s, and it doesn’t stop the book from being fun, but it make it feel like less than it could have – and should have – been. Smith was much tighter with his plotting in Bone.
Still I enjoyed it. Mary Marvel is a riot, the Monster Society’s main threats are perfectly menacing, Sivana is his usual conniving, snivelling self, and in perhaps his best moment, Smith turns Mr. Talky Tawny – Captain Marvel’s tiger friend – into a character with dignity and some depth.
DC’s had a difficult time integrating Captain Marvel into their mainstream continuity, possibly because his happy-go-lucky world of bright colors and improbable characters just doesn’t mesh with the more serious characters and concerns of the DC universe. He feels more at home in his own milieu, and for that as much as anyway, we can thank Jeff Smith for giving him a place where he can be himself.
Comics I Didn’t Buy:
Apparently a new issue of Fables came out this week and I missed it. I’ll pick it up next week.
I passed on Marvel Zombies vol 2 #1 (Marvel, natch). The first series – written by the irrepressable Robert Kirkman – was amusing and surprisingly gory for a Marvel comic, but I think it pretty much explored everything worthwhile about this particular schtick. I might thumb through this series in the store, but I don’t want to spend money on it.
I also thumbed through the Capes vol 1: Punching the Clock TPB (Image), which is also written by Kirkman, with art by Mark Englert. This takes place in the Invincible universe, and it’s about a superhero company – heroes who, as the title says, punch a time clock and work regular hours. It seemed like a pretty lightweight story, with awkward dollops of sexual innuendo, but mainly I passed on it because Englert’s artwork just didn’t work for me. It reminded me a lot of Erik Larsen’s art, which is too cartoony and exaggerated for my tastes, only I don’t think Englert has Larsen’s sense of form or layout; everything looked very stiff.