- Booster Gold #5, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
- Countdown to Infinite Crisis #20 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, Howard Porter & Art Thibert (DC)
- Fables #68, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
- Salvation Run #2 of 7, by Bill Willingham, Sean Chen & Walden Wong (DC)
- Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #4 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
- Fantastic Four #552, by Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
- Nova #9, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves, Wellington Diaz & Nelson Pereira (Marvel)
- B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
- The Boys #13, by Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson & Peter Snejbjerg (Dynamite)
The weird thing about Salvation Run #2 is that it features almost none of the same characters who headlined issue #1, which is to say that the Flash’s rogues gallery is shoved to the side in favor of, first, a group of truly marginal villains trying to survive in the alien world to which they’ve been exiled, and second, the Joker and another heavyweight villain who arrives at the end of the issue.
Willingham goes all-out with the brutality here, with minor characters being gruesomely mauled, and showing that the Joker – whom you’d think wouldn’t be in a great position to survive on an alien jungle world inasmuch as he has no super-powers and mainly relies on lurking in the shadows – can adapt with the best of them even among this group of psychopaths. Unfortunately, as much as I like Sean Chen’s artwork, I don’t think he draw a great Joker, and this is especially brought home by Dan Jurgens’ rendition in Booster Gold this same week.
We also get to see what a bunch of bastards the current Suicide Squad are, which seems like a rather simplistic reading of John Ostrander’s nuanced portrayal in Suicide Squad, which also came out this week.
In other words, it seems like Willingham is phoning in the script for this one, as it relies mainly on being shocking and bloody and not much else. So – as the saying goes – if you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you’ll like. Personally, I’m disappointed.
When you’re Grant Morrison you can get away with outlandish things in the mainstream DC Universe, such as taking the brain of General Wade Eiling – one of the main supporting characters in the 80s series Captain Atom – and planting it in the body of the indestructible construct The Shaggy Man.
But when you’re John Ostrander, you can go Morrison one better and integrate this idea into your own series, which is what we see in Suicide Squad #4, as Amanda Waller assembles a new Squad and recruits Eiling into it, despite the risks he presents. He also reestablishes the relationship of two of the main characters from the original series, even though one of them is the son of the original one.
Ostrander actually reminds me a lot of Bill Willingham as a writer, in that both of them take very calculated approaches to plotting their stories, and both can be cold and brutal in presenting the ramifications of their characters’ actions. I think Ostrander at his best is a slightly better writer, though, because I think his skill at characterization is deeper: Even his villains have the redeeming or likeable or sympathetic points (unless Ostrander clearly doesn’t want them to, a trait he reserves for only a few characters). And Suicide Squad is Ostrander near his best. Not only does it make me hope this mini-series spawns a new ongoing series after it, it makes me want to pick up the first series and re-read it.
The artwork by Javier Pina and Robin Riggs is also excellent, although Pina doesn’t quite have the flair for facial expressions to make the art really shine. He handles the fantastic visuals and the action scene just fine, though, and you can’t always have everything. Also, Riggs is a much better inker for Pina than the inkers he had on Manhunter, with a much smoother line which enhances Pina’s elegant layouts.
This is a really good series, and I still have no idea what the last 4 issues will be about. But it’s so good despite its unorthodox set-up that I expect it will be terrific whatever it is.
Nova #9 concludes Nova’s adventure fighting zombies in the severed head of a Celestial beyond the edge of the universe – a premise made for Chris Sims. There’s a lot to like here: Wellington Alves might not be quite as good an artist as his predecessor, Sean Chen, but he’s not far off, and he seems to be influenced by Stuart Immonen’s style, which is also a good thing. And Nova uses the tools at his disposal to deal with the zombie threat in a clever manner, and he heads off on his next adventure with some new allies behind him, and an old thread following him.
Some elements of the issue left me scratching my head, though: The zombie battle ended with a lack of closure regarding the central threat or the alien heroes he took over. It felt conceptually messy a threat with little reason for being, and Nova at its best (especially the first three issues) has been heavy on exploring reason or the lack thereof for things the hero encounters.
The issue also ends with a sort of crossroads for the series’ direction: Nova is still infested by the Phalanx technovirus, as are some of his former allies. Knowhere seems like a handy location for Nova to try to recreate the Nova Corps (which were destroyed – other than our hero – in the first Annihilation series). 9 issues in, I think it’s time for the series to establish its direction, or risk being the directionless muddle that Ms. Marvel became.
To be fair, the Annihilation Conquest issues (#4-7) were basically a distraction from the overall series, so I’ll be patient and see if Abnett and Lanning get the series back on solid ground. But I usually expect that after a year a series will be delivering on its promise. Nova started with plenty of promise, and by that measure it has 3 issues to start delivering.
I’m running out of interest in the B.P.R.D. series of mini-series. This latest series was a set-up to reveal something about one of the main characters, but all of the interesting stuff happened in the last issues. The first four issues could easily have been compressed into a single issue. And then this last issue has a dangling ending – which won’t be picked up in the next mini-series, since that one takes place in the 1940s. So we’ll have to wait ’til the middle of 2008 for more progress on the main story.
B.P.R.D. is a perfect example of “uncompressed” storytelling: It lingers over details, presumably to build up suspense (it is a horror title, after all), but mostly it just feels slow. And since it’s a series of mini-series, it’s rare that anything important to the central story gets resolved. And honestly the individual stories are not very memorable; they’ve started to all feel rather the same.
So why have I been buying it for so long? Well, I knew after the first couple of series that it was going to be a long-haul story, but without having any idea how long the haul would be, I figured I’d keep reading and see where it was going. But there’s no sign that it’ll come to a conclusion any time soon, and I’m running out of interest.
Hellboy started off with a big bang, and as a series of individual stories each of which was inventive and weighty-feeling on its own. But Mike Mignola’s horror franchise has ended up as a very even-tempered series of undistinguished series which feel increasingly undistinguished. I don’t know whether publishing so many issues so regularly has diluted Mignola’s energy and creativity, or if he’s just not as interested in series he’s not drawing himself. Or maybe Hellboy and B.P.R.D. have just run their course.
But at this point I’m mainly buying the franchise on inertia. I’ve certainly done this many times before with other series, but once I realize that I’m doing it, that’s usually a harbinger of the end of the line for me.