This Week’s Haul

  • Fables #100, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Chrissie Zullo & others (DC/Vertigo)
  • First Wave #5 of 6, by Brian Azzarello, Rags Morales & Rick Bryant (DC)
  • Knight and Squire #3 of 6, by Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton (DC)
  • Echo #26, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Lady Mechanika #1, by Joe Benitez (Aspen)
  • The Mystery Society #5 of 5, by Steve Niles & Fiona Staples (IDW)
Fables reaches the big one-zero-zero this month – quite a milestone for a comic that features no superheroes at all. I’ve been on board since the beginning, and while it’s had its ups and downs, it’s been quite a fun ride.

Since the war against The Adversary wrapped up in #75, the book has taken an even darker turn (and considering the book’s first story arc was entitled “Legends in Exile”, that’s saying something): A powerful entity named Mister Dark (whom some compare to Neil Gaiman’s character Morpheus, but I think the similarity is superficial at best) destroyed Fabletown, forcing the surviving fables to flee to The Farm in upstate New York. Mister Dark has been building his own edifice atop the remains of Fabletown, but finally someone has dared to challenge him: Frau Totenkinder, having been reborn as a young woman and calling herself Bellflower, engages him in a duel to the death of one of them in this issue.

The Mister Dark storyline has had some gripping moments, but overall the series has felt somewhat adrift, much like the Fables themselves. The most recent story arc highlighted the backstory of Rose Red, and her getting her act together to be a leader on the Farm again. But since Bellflower is the one who actually brings the fight to Mister Dark, that arc now feels a little superfluous. Fables has always tended to take a circuitous route to the end of its stories, but whether they end up being fun has depended more on the characters involved than anything else; Bigby Wolf, Snow White and Boy Blue carried the first 75 issues, but the recent focus on Rose Red and the witches has been a lot less successful, as none of them have really been sympathetic characters. More to the point, they’re all fairly inwardly-turned characters, so their interactions with the other Fables tend to be not very entertaining.

The conclusion of this issue is disappointing since it’s more of a transition than an end to the Mister Dark story, and I was really ready for his story to be over. The big fight in the issue is quite well done, but I’d been hoping for a different outcome.

The issue contains lots of extras – short stories, even paper doll cut-outs – which feels like an anniversary issue or giant-sized “annual” of years past. Certainly a nice package. I’d just been hoping for more out of the main story.

I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything rom Aspen Comics before – they seem to largely specialize in ladies-in-skimpy-costumes fare with run-of-the-mill stories. But Joe Benitez’ new steampunk series Lady Mechanika interested me. (That cover on the left, by the way, is by J. Scott Campbell, and is awful. The main cover, which you can see here is much better. But the Campbell cover is the only one my retailer still had in stock when I was there.) Certainly steampunk doesn’t have a shortage of improbably-skin-baring Victorian ladieswear, and Lady Mechanika‘s interiors seem right in keeping with the genre as I’ve seen it otherwise.

The story is okay: Lady Mechanika is an almost-legendary vigilante in the English city of Mechanika, a woman who’s left-machine, but whose role in the city’s life seems vague (is she a protector or avenger like Batman, or just someone investigating other unusual creatures like herself?). In this issue she’s looking into a report of another woman who’s turned up in the city with mechanical limbs, who promptly died after her arrival. The story and art are long on atmosphere, but short on plot advancement or characterization. It’s not bad, by any means, but it’s lightweight. I’m not familiar with Joe Benitez’ work, but he’s a pretty good artist, definitely a cut above the typical Image-style artist.

The book has some promise, but it’s also at great risk of being an ordinary steampunk adventure. Time will tell which direction it heads.

Steve Niles’ The Mystery Society wraps up this month. As a new entry in the monster-hunter adventure genre (alongside Hellboy and The Perhapanauts), it holds up quite well, with a strong dose of The Thin Man-inspired marital intrigue between Nick and Anastasia Mystery, with several peculiar characters joining them in their quest to investigate strange occurrences and liberate mysterious objects from around the world. It’s not going to set the world on fire, but it’s fun and funny.

The best part, I think, has been watching artist Fiona Staples develop, expanding her range of expressions and poses. Her biggest drawback as an artist is that her backgrounds tend to be sketchy-to-nonexistent, which makes the book feel like it’s taking place in a multicolored mist at times. Hopefully she’ll flesh out that part of her skill set on her next project.

I don’t know that The Mystery Society has a huge amount of long-term potential, but I’d read another series about these characters. Whether I’d go beyond that depends on whether Niles has some solid character surprises up his sleeve.

This Week’s Haul

A couple of good hardcover collections this week: The new Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers volume collects the Kree-Skrull War story from the early 1970s, with terrific art by Neal Adams, and surrounding stories with fine work by Barry Windsor-Smith and the Buscema brothers. The sprawling, deep-space story is a tad disappointing by today’s standards, but it was state-of-the-art at the time.

And then, West Coast Avengers Assemble is still a rollicking good time, chronicling the formation of the splinter team in the early 1980s, it’s some of Roger Stern’s finest writing, and a fine follow-up to Mark Gruenwald’s Hawkeye story, collected a year or so ago. The team of relative lightweights putting together a plan to take out one of Marvel’s most powerful villains is one of the best examples of brains-over-brawn in superhero comics history. This was probably the last high point of the Avengers until Kurt Busiek’s run 15 years later.

And with that, on to the regular stuff:

  • Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #2 of 6, by Grant Morrison & Frazer Irving (DC)
  • Green Lantern #54, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Green Lantern Corps #48, by Tony Bedard, Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #23, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (DC/Vertigo)
  • Power Girl #12, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers HC vol 137, collecting The Avengers vol 1 #89-100, by Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, Sal Buscema, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Tom Palmer & others (Marvel)
  • Avengers: West Coast Avengers Assemble HC, by Roger Stern, Bob Harras, Bob Hall, Al Milgrom, Luke McDonnell, Don Hudson, Brett Breeding, Joe Sinnott & others (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #579, by Jonathan Hickman, Neil Edwards & Andrew Currie (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #6, by Mark Waid, Horacio Domingues & Juan Castro (Boom)
  • The Mystery Society #1, by Steve Niles & Fiona Staples (IDW)
The guys over at Comics Should Be Good (Brian Curran: “Irving’s artwork is stunning on the comic.”; Greg Burgas: “Irving’s art is the best part of the book, as it’s always a treat to see it”.) are praising Frazer Irving’s art on The Return of Bruce Wayne #2 about as highly as anything they’ve reviewed, but I don’t see it. It’s not awful, mind you, and the splash page is pretty nifty:

(click for larger image)

But the layouts and compositions are pretty bland, and Irving’s style is decidedly over-rendered. Plus his faces range from vaguely-human to comically-grimacing. A few panels that made me raise my eyebrows for these reasons:

(again, click for larger images)

If Irving were drawing the whole series it might not look so strange, but following the very different – and far superior – Chris Sprouse work on the first issue, it’s a big come-down. But, diff’rent strokes and all that.

The story’s pretty good, although it felt very similar to some other stories: The basic structure of a witch-hunter not exactly beloved by even his friends much less the local townsfolk (the role the amnesiac Bruce Wayne plays here) feels virtually lifted from Tim Burton’s film Sleepy Hollow. The character of Annie, the nonconformist who lives in the woods and rescues and falls in love with Bruce, feels much like Madame Xanadu in the story in her own series a year or so ago, in which she was living a similar life during the Inquisition in Spain. The stuff involving Superman and the others is the most interesting part of the issue, especially as Morrison’s telling that end of the story in a non-linear fashion. His depiction of Batman as smarter than, well, anyone, gets a little tiresome, though, and taking that to its logical conclusion as is suggested here is kind of ridiculous.

Power Girl has been a series of lighthearted fun, terrific artwork by Amanda Conner, but the stories by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have been total fluff. (You know when you bring out Vartox half a year into your run that you’re not really set on accomplishing anything substantial.) And now, issue #12 is the last of the run by these three. Am I sad to see them go? Well, sorta – mainly Conner, who’s as distinctive an artist as is working at DC these days – but the series never felt like it was living up to its potential, or really even trying.

The last issue is rife with cheesecake (is this awkward, or is it “okay” because it’s drawn by a woman?), but otherwise enjoyable: It brings back most of the supporting cast (yes, even Vartox) for their own scenes, but mostly focusing on Terra, who’s basically PG’s BFF, where we meet Terra’s parents (who are about as peculiar as you’d expect people from an underground city with future-science to be). It wraps up back at PG’s company, which we haven’t seen nearly enough of during the run. It’s a feel-good issue, and enjoyable for what it is.

Comparing Power Girl to Geoff Johns & Dan Jurgens’ run on Booster Gold seems apt: Both are second-string characters given a new title with a solid artist (Jurgens can be a little stiff, but he’s by no means bad). But Booster’s series both felt weightier and meaningful without being depressing, and it felt like it progressed over time. Power Girl’s series just felt like a set of random encounters, and that she basically ended up in the same place where she started. Sure, Booster could have been a little more fun, but it still had some wit and charm to it, while Power Girl just didn’t have any depth. I was sad to see Jurgens leave Booster (especially when I saw what Giffen & DeMatteis were going to do with it), but I’m not really sad to see this team leave Power Girl, other than losing Conner’s artwork, because I’m hopeful the new writer will give the series some more substance.

All-in-all, there were far worse ways to be spending your three bucks a month for the past year than on Power Girl, but that’s not really a strong epitaph.

Hahaha! I was a little doubtful of The Mystery Society going in – I’d heard of Steve Niles, but I don’t think I’d read anything by him – thinking it sounded like a knock-off of Hellboy, but I guess it’s all in the execution: This first issue is stylish and funny and in a completely different way from Hellboy.

The premise is that a husband-and-wife team, Nick and Anastasia, form a group to investigate supernatural mysteries. The issue opens with Nick going to jail for something, and volunteering to tell the beginnings of the society. Cut to one of Nick’s first missions, breaking into a high-security government facility to rescue a pair of twins, exchanging banter over the phone with his wife along the way, as she welcomes (a little awkwardly) an applicant to join their team. Nick and Ana have a playful back-and-forth that I think deliberately evokes the old Thin Man movies, barely taking things seriously, yet Nick at least seems to be taking things very seriously indeed under his enthusastic exterior.

Fiona Staples’ artwork is rough around the edges – the backgrounds are a little skimpy, the inking a little sketchy – but her art has an exuberance that matches the story and the characters. It sounds like Niles has some interesting plans for this series, so I hope she sticks around and we see her develop as an artist.

As origin stories go, the first issue of The Mystery Society is a cut above. I’m looking forward to the second issue.