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This Week's Haul

Two weeks at once again, I’m afraid. Between fantasy baseball, work, taxes, the last two ultimate frisbee games of the season, and preparing for an upcoming vacation, I haven’t had much time to keep up with the journal.

Last week:

  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Four #3 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC)
  • Blackest Night #8 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #37, by Bill Willingham, Jesus Merino & Jesse Delperdang (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #21, by Matt Wagner & Amy Reeder Hadley (DC/Vertigo)
  • Captain America: Winter Soldier ultimate collection TPB, by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Michael Lark, John Paul Leon, Mike Perkins & Tom Palmer (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #577, by Jonathan Hickman & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #4, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
  • RASL #7, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)

This week:

  • Batman and Robin #11, by Grant Morrison, Andy Clarke & Scott Hanna (DC)
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. #1, by Jonathan Hickman & Dustin Weaver (Marvel)
  • The Boys #41, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Invincible Returns #1, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, Cory Walker & Cliff Rarthburn (Image)
Last week was the conclusion to DC’s big event comic of the past year, Blackest Night. I’ve written extensively about it along the way, and the conclusion didn’t really change my mind. In sum, it was a coherent story, essentially an outgrowth of ongoing themes in Green Lantern, but went on for far too long given that it was ultimately a fairly typical “save the universe” superhero yarn. Damning it with faint praise? Well, as I’ve also said, compared to other event comics from DC over the last few years, Blackest Night seems downright brilliant, staying away from convoluted continuity (in fact, Johns has largely ignored inconvenient continuity in his Green Lantern run in favor of building his own mythos, and the series has been the better for it) and portraying the heroes as being actual heroes, not trying to make them more “mature” or whatever Identity Crisis (which was pure trash as a series) was trying to do.

This final issue shows GL and his partners taking down the villain, and finding that the spirit of life in the universe has given them a gift returning a number of long-time heroes (and a few villains) to the land of the living. (I’d suspected that was how this was going to play out back at the beginning of the series.) This isn’t exactly a boon for some of the characters – just for starters, a hero named Deadman probably shouldn’t be returned to life, eh? – and I guess this will lead into DC’s next bi-weekly series, Brightest Day (which I’m on the fence about picking up).

In addition to all this, Blackest Night is something of a buddy story, bringing Flash and Green Lantern together again, remembering old friends, reclaiming their positions in the top tier of DC’s pantheon of heroes by defeating this big baddie. This issue winds down with the two of them standing over Batman’s grave and realizing that Bruce Wayne is still alive, and wondering what’s next for them all. Not a bad way to end the series.

And wow, that cover sure is gorgeous! Ivan Reis does a bang-up job on the interior art, too. He’s still got that tinge of “classic Image style” to his pencils which is a bit off-putting, but he’s been getting better and better. I hope he goes back to drawing GL again now that this series is over.

Essential reading Blackest Night might not be, and as it’s mainly been driven by Geoff Johns’ own vision I don’t think it reflects much on what DC’s future event comics might be like. But it’s been pretty good.

I completely missed out on Ed Brubaker’s Captain America when it started. To be sure, Cap was in the doldrums when it began, having gone through several relaunches of his title, none of them since Mark Waid’s first run really having worked. (The John Ney Rieber/John Cassaday run looks pretty, but that’s about it.) And I’d never heard of Brubaker before, so why sign on to yet another new Cap series?

But having discovered Brubaker through his independent work (Incognito, Criminal, Sleeper), and knowing that Steve Epting is a top-notch artist, the release of the Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection seemed like a fine time to start catching up on what I’d missed.

What I’d missed was Brubaker really, truly doing what’s been verboten at Marvel for decades: Bringing back Cap’s deceased partner Bucky Barnes. (I don’t really count Peter David’s jokey hint of doing so in Incredible Hulk years ago.) But Brubaker pulls it off, making Bucky a tragic figure whose history since World War II has been anything but happy and heroic. Winter Soldier follows Cap learning about Bucky’s existence thanks to his friends at S.H.I.E.L.D., and a powerful businessman who’s employing a former Soviet operative code-named the Winter Soldier as a hit-man and bodyguard. Okay, it doesn’t take much to figure out what’s really going on here from all that, but Brubaker is such a good writer that he weaves in Cap’s own personal crisis (this story occurs shortly after the original Avengers disbanded), international intrigue, the death of a minor supporting character, and the complex story of Bucky’s survival into a seamless whole. It works astoundingly well, and has me interested in more.

Of course I know where Cap’s gone over the last few years since this story, what with Civil War and (ahem) The Death of Captain America, but Brubaker’s got me won over that I want to read how he handles it. Winter Soldier might be a little too heavy for someone not already a Cap fan, but if you’re reasonably familiar with Cap’s own history, then this one is highly recommended.


I’m not sure what to make on Jonathan Hickman’s series for Marvel. Fantastic Four has been contemplative, not really action-oriented at all, and we’re now 3/4ths of the way through an “arc” in which the FF are being exposed to new exotic groups of creatures: Highly-evolved subterraneans, high-tech underwater beings, and now non-human inhumans. (The sequence is titled “Prime Elements”, so the three groups shown so far presumably represent earth, water and air.) It feels like it’s purely set-up for future stories, but it’s all so far-ranging it’s hard to see how it will all tie together. Meanwhile, the individual issues have not been particularly good, with little tension or conflict or character studies. It’s been rather dull, actually.

And now there’s the ongoing title S.H.I.E.L.D., which seems to only tangentially relate to the classic Nick Fury organization. Instead it features historic figures saving the world – Galileo facing Galactus, for example. The conceit is briefly amusing, but an ongoing series? Really? In the 1950s we have a man who seems to have Captain Marvel’s cosmic awareness joining the group, when his father shows up and faces Agents Richards and Stark. All these details make it seem like the series is taking place in one or more alternate universes, because shoehorning all this stuff into the existing Marvel Universe seems somewhere between pointless and impossible. And again, the story is more thoughtful than exciting, and it’s hard to get enthused about it.

Hickman’s artistic partners are quite good, but the writing just isn’t doing it for me. Exploring the unexplored backwaters of a nearly-50-year-old universe needs to be a lot more gripping and relevant than this to hold my interest. Hickman needs to punch up the excitement factor, because his efforts at cultivating a sense of wonder aren’t working.

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