This Week’s Haul

  • Blackest Night #1 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Black Night: Tales of the Corps #1 of 3, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Jerry Ordway, Chris Samnee & Rags Morales (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #25, by Adam Beechen, Roger Robinson & Hilary Barta (DC)
  • Fables #86, by Bill Willingham, Jim Fern & Craig Hamilton (DC/Vertigo)
  • JSA vs. Kobra #2 of 6, by Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • Wednesday Comics #2 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Captain Britain Omnibus Edition HC, by Alan Moore, Alan Davis, Jamie Delano, Chris Claremont, and others (Marvel)
  • Incognito #5 of 6, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Artesia Besieged #3 of 6, by Mark Smylie (Archaia)
  • The Unknown #3 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Unthinkable #3 of 5, by Mark Sable & Julian Totino Tedesco (Boom)
  • RASL #5, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon)
Blackest Night #1

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #1

DC’s next big event is Blackest Night, which is basically the next Green Lantern event (the last one was The Sinestro Corps War. Extending the theme of power-ring-empowered characters across the color spectrum, Blackest Night introduces the Black Lanterns, spearheaded by longtime C-list Lantern foe Black Hand. The Black Lanterns’ rings seek out dead heroes and villains and turns them into evil zombies, rising from the grave to strike out against their former friends and allies.

Honestly, I wish this had stayed just a Green Lantern story, rather than bringing in all the other DC characters. I can see bringing in The Flash since he’s one of GL’s best friends, he’s newly back from the dead himself, and the fact that Flash and GL are both dead men walking looks like it’s going to be a theme of the series. But bringing back dozens of dead heroes and villains who are largely unrelated to GL seems completely gratuitous and unnecessary. This first issue’s final scene involves Elongated Man and his wife Sue coming back as zombies to attack and take down Hawkman and Hawkgirl, which is grisly and basically no fun. Whereas the scene in which a legion of dead Green Lanterns erupt from their mausoleum is actually pretty creepy.

(Aside: From my understanding of the status quo, the Elongated Man scene strongly suggests that the black rings haven’t brought the bodies’ souls back to their zombie forms, because Ralph and Sue Dibny’s souls have been doing good work as spiritual detectives lately. So the bodies have been reanimated with a vestige of their former personalities, I infer. But hopefully it will all be explained.)

Anyway, unfortunately we’re stuck with this as a company-wide crossover. Don McPherson liked it, while Chris Sims hated it. I’m closer to Sims’ opinion, as it mostly feels like a misfire: Geoff Johns’ attempts to paint various heroes’ emotions regarding their deceased comrades feels abrupt and artificial, basically manipulative. Johns does a decent job dealing with “his” characters (GL and Flash), but few of the other characters’ portrayals work for me.

I think this story can work if it focuses heavily on the Green Lanterns and shoves most of the other DCU character aside. I don’t think it’s going to do that. It could achieve a lower level of success by making the Black Lanterns interesting and novel, which it just might do. But it’s not off to a strong start. Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert’s art is good as always, though.

(BTW, DC is promoting the series with plastic Black Lantern rings, and I got one from my store on Wednesday.)

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps is a tie-in title focusing on some of the supporting cast of the GL series. It’s not essential, but it is pretty fun. The first story provides the backstory of Saint Walker, the first of the Blue Lanterns, with excellent art by Jerry Ordway. The second story is about the son of the villain Mongul, is a very slight piece, and I didn’t care for the art at all. The third story is the introduction of the engimatic Indigo Tribe, with great art by Rags Morales (who I wish we saw more of), though the story is little more than a teaser.

Fables #86 Gee, what more can I say about the new Fables that Greg Burgas hasn’t already said?:

Now that the interminable Great Fables Crossover is over, Willingham has turned back into a good writer and gives us a nice tale about the Dark Man and how he came to be trapped in a box.

The backstory of the Boxers – a secret society of powerful wizards tasked with imprisoning powerful evil creatures in the Empire – is compelling, one of the more interesting ideas put forth in the whole series. I’d be willing to read a whole mini-series about this group, honestly! Jim Fern and Craig Hamilton produce some stunningly lovely artwork here – among the best the series has ever seen, and that’s saying something! Hamilton is one of those rarely-seen artists whose absence is always sorely felt on those rare occasions when he does come back to draw something; even just as the inker here, his impact is clear. I still pull out his old Aquaman mini-series from 25 years ago in large part to enjoy his art anew.

Anyway, this is a great issue which has rekindled my enthusiasm for the series. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Wednesday Comics #2 Wednesday Comics‘ second week is about the same as its first. The standout story is Karl Kerschl & Brenden Fletcher’s Flash, which has a very interesting development involving time travel. The Demon and Catwoman is also becoming intriguing.

On the other hand, I couldn’t even read the Wonder Woman story, the layouts are so convoluted. The Superman page is just awful, with a tired old character development and artwork I really can’t stand. Teen Titans I could read, but I just don’t care. Hawkman has nice Kyle Baker artwork, but I really hate the ultra-violent portrayal of Hawkman that’s been in vogue over the last decade.

The other stories are, well, second pages of their stories, moving things forward a little bit. Kurt Busiek’s Green Lantern story is amusingly set in the (I think) 1950s, and it ends in a cliffhanger. Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred are taking a decidedly offbeat approach to their Metamorpho story, having a lot of fun with some clichés of the genre, although there’s not a lot of story yet.

So as you’d expect, the second issue goes in all sorts of different directions, a few good, many bad. But the whole package still hasn’t really distinguished itself.

Captain Britain Omnibus Edition HC Captain Britain was originally a British superhero created and written by Americans. In the early 80s, Marvel Comics UK was interested in publishing a little original material, and pulled this character back from oblivion for a long run of short chapters in a variety of titles. The artist of the relaunch was Alan Davis, doing his first major comics series, who would go on to become one of Marvel’s major art stars in the 80s and 90s. Meanwhile, the writing included a lengthy story by Alan Moore (yes, that Alan Moore) and a run by Jamie Delano. Captain Britain and his girlfriend Meggan then became mainstays of Marvel’s Excalibur title.

In other words, despite a haphazard publication history, a neophyte artist, and stories that were sometimes hard to follow, Captain Britain ended up establishing both creators and characters who would impact Marvel for years to come. And after a couple of paperback collections from a decade ago, Marvel’s now given this the hardcover omnibus treatment, with the whole run – plus a few miscellaneous extras – collected in one lovely package.

Unfortunately, at just under a hundred bucks, it’s difficult for me to say, “Try it, you’ll like it!” The early chapters are pretty weak, and Davis is a below-average artist at first. Moore’s celebrated run is pretty good, but often a little too metaphysical for my tastes, as it’s difficult to figure out what’s going on or how the characters came around to their presence circumstances and motivations. Nonetheless, as a battle of heroes against two tremendously powerful – nigh-unbeatable, really – foes, it does a good job of evoking up the “always darkest before the dawn” feelings that such a story should have, and it has a satisfying climax.

Delano’s stories don’t hold together as a coherent whole, they’re more a series of vignettes, but overall they’re better than Moore’s story, with much deeper emotional resonance, and even a certain sense of regret that the series was ultimately cancelled even though it seemed there was a lot more story to tell. Captain Britain’s heroic deeds have a certain amount of fall-out which his friends and especially his sister believe it’s their responsibility to care for. Cap doesn’t agree, since his actions were really cleaning up someone else’s mess, and he’s not truly responsible for the events. This leads to a schism between Cap and his friends, but he finds a new ally – and lover – in Meggan, an elfish shapeshifter. Each individual chapter is powerful, and the ongoing story shifts and develops over time, but the ending feels rather abrupt, even if it’s arguably the best that could have been done under the circumstances. Still, really good stuff.

Holding it all together is Davis’ artwork, which steadily improves, and arguably the early Delano stories feature some of the best art he’s even done, imaginative yet realistic, and a little more moody than his hyper-polished style that he developed not long after. Certainly if top-shelf Davis artwork is what you want, you can’t really ask for better than what you’ll find here.

I admit a waffled a little on whether I really wanted to pick this up. I finally decided there was just enough material here that I hadn’t seen before that combined with the lovely hardcover volume it was worth the money to me. I’ll surely pull it out and read it many times. But it’s a tall investment for other fans, I understand. You might do better to seek out one of the older paperback collections to give it a try before you plunk down a C-note – or even a little over $60 at – for this one.

(I think Marvel issued this with two covers, one each with Cap’s two costumes. I picked up the one with his original costume, as depicted at left. I actually like his original costume better, but it’s incongruous here since he shifts to his new costume on the very first page. Small matter, though.)

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.)