This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #20, by Keith Giffen, Pat Olliffe, Norm Rapmund, Dan Jurgens & Rodney Ramos (DC)
  • Fables #84, by Bill Willingham, Matt Sturges, Tony Akins, Andrew Pepoy & Dan Green (DC/Vertigo)
  • The Unwritten #1, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Echo #12, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • The Unknown #1 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Unthinkable #1 of 5, by Mark Sable & Julian Totino Tedesco (Boom)
  • B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #6 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
  • Castle Waiting #15, by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)
The Unwritten #1 The Unwritten is getting as much buzz in comics as anything I can recall coming out of Vertigo this decade, and the first issue is only $1.00, so it sure seems worth a try. I didn’t read Carey & Gross’ previous series, Lucifer, and I think this might be my first exposure to Carey’s writing, though I’ve seen Gross’ work before. Although his art is on the under-rendered side for my tastes, I like it better than Peter Snejbjerg’s (a comparison I make because they have very similar styles).

The premise is that Tom Taylor is, like Christopher Robin Milne, a grown man who as a boy was the model for a fictional character in a children’s book. Tommy Taylor appears to be a hero much like Harry Potter, whose adventures appeared a couple of decades ago to great acclaim (the series in the story is even more popular than J.K. Rowling’s books), before the author, Wilson Taylor, disappeared. In the present day, Tom Taylor is eclipsed by his fictional namesake, and supports himself mainly through signing tours. Though gracious to fans of the series, he chafes that he has no accomplishments or career of his own.

But it soon comes out that not all in Tom’s life is what it appears, perhaps just a boy Wilson hired from his family to take on tour. Tom’s life collapses as investigations into his background and the fans turn against him. And then things get really weird, when it starts to seem like Tom might just be Tommy Taylor.

Carey and Gross say that The Unwritten is going to be a meditation on stories, and on “the story behind all stories”, which strikes me as both a hugely ambitious hook, and one a lot less interesting than the basic notion of a guy who might be a fictional character and not know it. Pulling off either of these metaphysical, metatextual notions is going to take some careful execution – nothing could kill the story faster than ending up in random fantasy lands devoid of structure or rules – but there’s a lot of potential here, and I do hope they can live up to most of it.

Gross’ art is still under-rendered for my preference (although the last page is quite good), but overall the book is quite intriguing and might well live up to all the hype. It’s off to a good start.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #6 I wasn’t as enamored of the first series of The Umbrella Academy as some were: I thought it was a lot of random twaddle strewn about a decent but unexceptional plot, albeit with quite good artwork. The second series, Dallas, seems to have catered to the die-hard fans by reducing the quality of the plot and throwing in a lot more twaddle: Time-traveling assassins, a boss with a fish-in-a-bowl for a head, a side-trip to Vietnam, before winding up in Dallas at the Kennedy assassination. Quirkily weird, it also feels devoid of all meaning, with cardboard characters.

I guess sales have not been as strong as the first series, but no doubt there will be a third one. I’m not sure I’m interested enough to keep going, though; I don’t feel like I’ve gotten much out of the first two.

This Week’s Haul

  • Justice Society of America: Kingdom Come Special: The Kingdom #1, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Fernando Pasarin, Mick Gray, Jack Purcell & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #48, by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul & Livesay (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #6, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (DC/Vertigo)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #7, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Hulk #8, by Jeph Loeb, Arthur Adams & Frank Cho (Marvel)
  • Nova #19, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • The End League #6, by Rick Remender & Eric Canete (Dark Horse)
  • The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
Justice Society of America: Kingdom Come Special: The Kingdom #1 Make no mistake, this week’s JSA special, The Kingdom has no more relationship to Kingdom Come or its sequel The Kingdom than does anything else going on in JSA lately. Indeed, it’s really just an extra-large issue of JSA, with a nicer-than-usual Alex Ross cover. (I do wish he’d do more covers which actually illustrate what happens in the story, though.) Fernando Pasarin, the regular jSA artist, even illustrates it.

The story is basically yet-more reaction by the JSAers to the efforts of Gog’s seven-day plan to bring paradise to Earth. The best part is Stargirl’s efforts to drill some sense into Damage, for which she recruits Atom Smasher to help out (Damage is the son of the golden age Atom, while Atom Smasher – nee Nuklon – is his godson). It goes badly, of course. Meanwhile, Sand starts to worry that Gog’s goals aren’t so altruistic, leading to the cliffhanger ending of the issue.

Thy Kingdom Come – the ongoing story in JSA dealing with the arrival of the Kingdom Come Superman on Earth-DC and his attempts to forestall the tragedy that befell his world – has spun out in a wide variety of story threads, but none of them have been fully satisfying. I’m not sure the resolution of the Gog story is going to make or break it, but it’s got to have a better resolution than the rather limp conclusion to the Power Girl/Earth-2 story or it’s going to be a big disappointment.

Anyway, far from being “special”, if you’re not reading JSA then this isn’t likely to have any meaning for you.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1 The Umbrella Academy starts its second series by catching up with the survivors of the first series, who mostly haven’t fared too well in the interim. The first issue ends with a big “uh-oh” cliffhanger following a wacky action scene. Like the first issue of the first series, it all seems perfectly promising. But the first series meandered all over the place and ended up not going much of anywhere, just weirdness for the sake of weirdness. I’m hoping the second series is better, by which I mean, more coherent and meaningful. I do like Gabriel Bá’s artwork quite a bit, still evoking that of Mike Mignola but with its own stylings.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #10, by Mark Waid, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #10 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Keith Giffen & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • The Death of the New Gods #6 of 8, by Jim Starlin & Art Thibert (DC)
  • Ex Machina #34, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Hulk #2, by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines (Marvel)
  • Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men vol 90 HC, collecting The Uncanny X-Men #142-150, by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, Brent Anderson, Dave Cockrum, Josef Rubenstein & Bob Wiacek (Marvel)
  • The Umbrella Academy #6 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
  • Locke & Key #1, by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
  • Invincible #48, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Perhapanauts Annual #1, by Todd DeZago & Craig Rousseau (Image)
The Umbrella Academy #6 I was pretty enthusiastic about The Umbrella Academy after reading the first issue: The premise is that a group of 7 children were born with super-powers, and raised by their rather unpleasant mentor, Sir Reginald Hargreeves, in a weird version of the early 20th century. The first issue treated us to the children as ten-year-olds saving Paris from Zombie-Robot Gustav Eiffel and his tower, and showed us how disfunctional Hargreeves’ “family” was, largely due to his shortcomings as an adoptive father. 20 years later, the family had drifted apart, and its most prominent member, Spaceboy, lived on the moon. But the group was reunited by Hargreeves’ funeral, along with the return of one of their members – Five – who had disappeared years before.

Although essentially a horror-oriented variation of the original X-Men, this was a fine start to the series, but it went downhill from there. The interplay among the characters was easily the series’ high point, but the its plot was a muddle: One of the Academy, Vanya, who has no super-powers but is a violinist, is recruited by the Orchestra Verdammten to help bring about the end of the world, which she’s (sort of) happy to do since she’s an outcast from her family and feels marginalized by the world. Along the way the Academy faces a loud-but-pointless battle against some robots called the Terminauts in issue #3, and a lot of waiting around in issues #4 and 5, until the big confrontation with Vanya and her Orchestra in #6.

I understand The Umbrella Academy is intended to be a lengthy series of mini-series along the lines of Mike Mignola’s B.P.R.D. (probably no coincidence, as both books are published by Dark Horse). However this first mini-series – subtitled “The Apocalypse Suite” – was a big letdown in its conclusion. There’s basically no emotional payoff, as the issues the heroes have with their stepfather are largely unexplored and certainly not resolved, and their relationships with each other remain undeveloped. The motivations of the Orchestra are – to put it mildly – thin, which undercuts the story’s reason for being; indeed, the whole apocalypse suite angle seems awkwardly tacked on to the larger story of Five’s return, the group’s reuniting, and Hargreeves’ motivations and death. In short, everything that was interesting about the set-up is roughly shoved aside to serve this fairly clunky end-of-the-world threat.

This series is getting some rave reviews on the web. For instance, Greg Burgas at Comics Must Be Good: “This is one of the best mini-series you’re going to read in a long time”. Chris Sims in his Invincible Super-Blog: “I’ve gotta say, now that it’s all said and done, this has easily been one of the best comics of the year.” And Bryan Joel at IGN: “Umbrella Academy has been nothing short of brilliant for nearly its entire run.”

All of which of course makes me think: Whuh? I mean, hah?

These reactions made more sense to me once I read Valerie D’Orazio’s review in Occasional Superheroine, in which she compares The Umbrella Academy to Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol of a couple of decades ago: “Way’s been very up front in interviews about his love of Grant Morrison, and while the influence of comic’s own pop magician is felt throughout, it’s just that – influence. Umbrella Academy avoids the lazy trap of trying to lift Morrison’s shtick wholesale that has claimed so many would-be talents, instead showing a real understanding of the blend of great character moments and cool, understated responses to absurdity that made books like Doom Patrol work so well in the first place.” The comparison between the books is quite apt, and perhaps indicates why I was disappointed in the series: I thought that Morrison’s Doom Patrol started off with 6 pretty good issues, and then descended into an utter mess of frenetic idea-driven yarns with characterization close to nil (even calling the characters “cardboard” is being charitable) and plot not a whole lot better. Other than those first few issues, it was pretty forgettable stuff, because there just wasn’t much story there. Morrison’s earlier Animal Man was better, and his later JLA was much better, in both cases because the ideas turned into solid stories, rather than just remaining simple products of the ideas factory that is Morrison’s mind.

The Umbrella Academy is similar to Doom Patrol in this way: A torrent of ideas illustrated by a highly capable artist (Gabriel Bá’s art is terrific; occasionally a little cartoony for my tastes, but he nonetheless can handle anything Way can throw at him, as well as a wide variety of character designs and expressions), but with a story that doesn’t make much sense, and which seems to be actively obstructed by the various nifty things being presented.

Of the reviews I’ve read, I think I agreed most with Joe McCulloch’s review in the Savage Critics: “While the book is neat enough that I’m happy to read it, I don’t pick up on anything all that striking. It’s nice, and pretty eloquent, but I don’t think it’s especially interesting.”

The next series is going to have to actually build on the premise the first two issues of this series laid out, or else The Umbrella Academy is going to end up going the route of B.P.R.D. of always teasing, but never delivering on its promise, with the story crawling forward at a snail’s pace. And that won’t keep me around for long, since I’m already just about done with B.P.R.D..

Locke & Key #1 Locke & Key has been getting a fair bit of hype in the press, perhaps because writer Joe Hill is a successful novelist (and also the son of Stephen King). I hadn’t heard of it before this first issue came out, but I thumbed through it in the store and decided to give it a try, mainly because of the artwork of Gabriel Rodriguez, whose clean linework I appreciated, and whose figures seemed pretty expressive.

It’s a horror series, with this first issue showing (in flashback) the murderous tragedy that befell the Locke family in which the father was kiled, which led them to move to a gothic mansion in the peninsular town of Lovecraft, Massachusetts. These last two overused trappings aside, the premise sounds pretty interesting: The three children of the Locke family find that going through doors in the house can can also transform them in different ways, and that the series’ antagonist wants to use the house for his (or its) own ends (Hill describes the premise in more depth here). But the premise is barely even scratched here – this first issue is all set-up for what sends the characters to the house.

So it’s a bit of a thin issue – unless you enjoy a straight-up short horror story for its own sake – but I’m hopeful that it will deliver on its promise. It seems worth a try.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 19 September 2007.

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #56, by Tad Williams & Shawn McManus (DC)
  • Countdown #32 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Al Barrionuevo & Art Thibert (DC)
  • Countdown to Adventure #1 of 8, by Adam Beechen, Eddy Barrows & Julio Ferreira, and Justin Gray & Fabrizio Fiorentino (DC)
  • Countdown to Mystery #1 of 8, by Steve Gerber, Justiniano & Walden Wong, and Matthew Sturges & Stephen Jorge Segovia (DC)
  • Ex Machina #30, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Armageddon Conquest: Quasar #3 of 4, by Christos N. Gage, Mike Lilly, Bob Almond & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • World War Hulk #4 of 5, by Greg Pak, John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson (Marvel)
  • The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #1 #1 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)

Countdown #32Gee, it’s a new artist on Countdown! Too bad he got stuck illustrating this piece of cow flop, which largely involves a bachelorette party for Black Canary, who’s getting married to Green Arrow soon, in what is surely one of the most pointless company-wide events in recent memory. Countdown has been pretty widely panned in the blogosphere, and for good reason: There’s really no coherent story in it, and random events from the DC universe – like the GA/BC wedding – intrude on it for no good reason and to no good effect. It’s everything that 52 wasn’t, and that’s not a good thing.

Meanwhile, I broke down and decided to try both Countdown to Adventure and Countdown to Mystery, which are both sorta-kinda tie-ins to Countdown, each with two stories.

Countdown to Adventure #1Countdown to Adventure focuses on the “space heroes” from 52: Adam Strange, Starfire, and Animal Man. Adam Strange gets some competition in his role as protector of Rann, while Animal Man’s wife isn’t too wild about the buxom Starfire crashing in their house since she lost her powers. The art is very pretty and the story has promise, although honestly I get tired of writers dumping on Adam Strange all the time. Can’t the guy ever catch a break? I think the best Adam Strange story in the last 15 years was the JLA story in which he manipulated the Justice League to save Rann, showing that, yes, he really is just really clever and he can think rings around other heroes (and villains).

The back-up story is about Forerunner, a supporting character in Countdown, and it’s basically a good tale about a completely uninteresting character.

Countdown to Mystery #1Countdown to Mystery was originally going to be Steve Gerber’s relaunch of Doctor Fate, but I guess DC decided it might sell better if tied in to the current ongoing event of Countdown. Who knows if it does, but the story here has absolutely nothing to do with Countdown. In it the helmet of Nabu lands on the head of Dr. Kent Nelson, failed psychiatrist. Does he have any relationship at all to the Kent Nelson who was the original Doctor Fate? Who knows? Gerber’s trippy, stream-of-consciousness narrative doesn’t really work at all – the thing feels entirely by-the-numbers, like one of the glummer moments of a Doctor Strange run over at Marvel. Justiniano and Wong’s artwork sometimes feels like Tom Mandrake, and sometimes like Kevin O’Neill, which is a bizarre mixture. It’s not bad, although the tweaks to Fate’s costume look kind of silly.

The back-up here is about the current incarnation of Eclipso, a silly DC villain from the 60s who’s now in the body of the ex-wife of The Atom, for reasons which emerged in DC’s event of a couple of years ago, Identity Crisis, which was a series which had very pretty artwork and a completely nonsensical story. All of which means that this series probably would have been better if it had been left as just a new Doctor Fate series.

World War Hulk #4I think I see how World War Hulk is going to end: The Sentry is going to finally join the fray, try to talk the Hulk down from his rampage, they’ll get into a fight, and then the Sentry’s evil opposite number, the Void, will get released. In the ensuing chaos, the other heroes get free and try to contain the void, the the Hulk slips away somehow – possibly injured and taken by his allies out of reach of Earth’s heroes. And the Hulk’s story diverges from that of Earth again. Which would leave the question of: What happens next?

But first there’s the even bigger question: Can Greg Pak surprise me and pull off a different ending from this?

The Umbrella Academy #1Fans of Hellboy must check out The Umbrella Academy. Gerard Way is the frontman of the band My Chemical Romance, one of those rare alt-rock bands that I’ve actually heard of. Irrespective of that, the comic is actually quite good. The book has a strong Victorian-era feel, although details of the story suggest that it takes place in sometimes between 1920 and 1960 (after the death of Gustav Eiffel, for one thing). In it, a number of infants are mysteriously born to women across the globe, and a prominent man named The Monocle goes out to collect them, but finds only 7, whom he raises himself in The Umbrella Academy. The seven each have one or more unusual powers, but their father dotes on Number One, who is a Superman-like figure, and denegrates the others. The first half of the issue takes place when the group is 10, and the second half focuses on Number One, now called Spaceboy, 20 years later, when an accident has left him with the body of a giant gorilla.

The book has heroes in domino masks, a talking ape, a boxer beating up an alien, and one of the kids reappearing after a long absence. Ba’s art is reminiscent of Mike Mignola’s work on Hellboy, and the whole thing is creepy and eerie and provocative. A very neat start, I’m very much looking forward to the next issue!

(You can read some previously-published solo adventures of adult members of the Umbrella Academy on the comic’s MySpace page.)

On a completely different note, if you’re interested in any incarnation of the Justice Society of America of the last 35 years, you might be interested in the extended debate Kalinara and I are having about them on her blog. We have completely different points of view on the subject, which is amusing even if I do find her point of view rather incomprehensible! 🙂