The End of For Better or For Worse

A year after “going hybrid”, Lynn Johnston’s long-running comic strip For Better or For Worse came to an end today with a mostly-text piece telling us how the lives of the Pattersons developed after the end of the strip, which concluded with the marriage of Elizabeth to Anthony.

Well, it’s sort of ending, but as the last panel of the strip as well as a letter to her readers says, Johnston is actually rebooting the strip, going back to the beginning and telling the story of John and Elly and their children from the beginning, with new art and new jokes, but still a return to the past.

I have two reactions to this:

First, for me this effectively marks the conclusion of For Better or For Worse. Much as when Marvel launched its Ultimate line of titles, I don’t really feel a need to read the same stuff done anew, even if it does differ here and there. If my newspaper carries it, I’ll read it, but I doubt I’ll pick up any collections of the rebooted material (I own copies of every collection published so far).

The quality of FBoFW has followed a bell curve: The early strips were fun but very rough, and without much continuity. The best stuff came in the middle, when the kids Michael and Lizzie were teenagers, and Elly was dealing with her parents entering old age. The later years were very well drawn, but the writing was weak and often maudlin and contrived: Elizabeth’s romantic entanglements in which she ended up with her high school sweetheart Anthony in a silly turn of events, Elly’s father’s ongoing health problems (including a nauseating decision to have him suffer another stroke on the eve of Elizabeth’s wedding), the house fire which led to Michael and his family buying their parents’ house. So going back to the beginning and having to wait 10 years until she revisits “the good stuff” isn’t very appealing.

Second, given the theme (and title!) of the strip, I wonder why she decided to end the continuity now. In her letter, she suggests that she was getting tired of dealing with the large cast and ever-more-complicated storylines, but there’s not any reason she had to keep those elements. Elly and John are heading towards retirement, and their youngest daughter April will be heading to college soon. It seems natural that as their kids move away their circle of friends and drama would shrink somewhat. There’s no reason Johnston would have to follow the lives of their children closely, she could instead focus on the transition to retirement her characters are going through, and focus on her main characters, having the other characters come visit naturally when they would in real life, on holidays and special events and the occasional vacation.

I suspect that Johnston was uncomfortable taking the characters that route given that she’s recently been divorced herself and so that’s not the route she’s taking. That I can understand. And presumably her syndicate was perfectly happy to keeping paying her to produce the strip as a reboot, possibly with less controversy than it’s seen in its later years, where they might be less willing to give he a try with a brand-new strip (though I don’t know whether she tried to pitch them a new strip). So it makes sense, in a way.

In conclusion, the characters we’ve been reading about for the last 30 years have reached the end of their story. It’s disappointing that the strip basically limped over the finish line, but it’s tough to keep anything going for that long, especially at a high level of quality, and ultimately we’ll always have the good stuff to go back to and enjoy. And that’s worth a lot, because at it’s peak the strip was very, very good.

Lois McMaster Bujold: Paladin of Souls

Paladin of Souls is the sequel to The Curse of Chalion, and also the winner of the 2004 Hugo Award for next novel.

The story opens about 3 years after the close of Chalion, and the protagonist is Ista, the mother of the present royina (queen), who lived for 20 years under a cloud of depression and despair due to the curse on the royal house. It’s taken her this long to struggle out from under that cloud, and with the death of her mother Ista is now casting about for some meaning to her life, even as she’s kept a prisoner through kindness of her family and friends at her mother’s castle. Desperate for a change, Ista organizes a pilgrimage for herself and a few helpers, including a pair of soldiers sent by her daughter, Ferda and Foix, and her new lady-in-waiting, Liss, whose main occupation is a horse courier.

On her pilgrimage, Ista learns that more and more demons seem to be loose in the world, a point driven home when one of her party is himself occupied by a demon. But the group soon has larger problems, when they are attacked by a raiding party from the neighboring – and unfriendly – nation of Jokona. After the group is scattered, Ista is eventually rescued by Lord Arhys and taken to his castle Porifors, where she also mets Arhys’ young wife Cattilara. Though charmed by their hospitality – and rather taken with Arhys – Ista soon realizes that there’s something not right in Porifors. In fact, a visit from a party from Jokona some months earlier had adversely affected Arhys and left his best friend, Illvin, close to death. Moreover, all that has transpired can be traced back to Jokona, and Ista finds herself unwillingly at the center of the happenings, and even more unwillingly charged by one of the gods – gods whom she believed abandoned her to her decades-long misery – to set things right.

Being set in the same world as Chalion, I found Paladin suffers many of the same problems, among them its stock and basically unimaginative backdrop. The most interesting aspect of the backdrop are the five gods – the Father, the Son, the Mother, the Daughter, and the Bastard – who each hold sway over different aspects of the world, and with a structure that makes it more than a common polytheistic religion. But the structure doesn’t really play a major role in the story, it’s just a backdrop which shapes the character of the one god – the Bastard – who does play a significant role.

The big problem is that Paladin shares the biggest flaw of Chalion, which is that the story moves so s-l-o-w-l-y. It takes nearly a hundred pages for anything significant to happen, during which we’re mainly treated to the endless musings of Ista over her situation, until they encounter the Jokonan raiders. And then it’s over a hundred more pages before the revelation of what’s happening in Porifors, which is when the real story begins; everything before that it really just set-up, and it drags. A lot.

The balance of the story is generally stronger than Chalion, though: While Ista is not as engaging a main character as Cazaril was (Ista is another stock “strong woman in a society which marginalizes women” character), the challenge she faces is more interesting, and it has a much more dramatic and satisfying resolution. I also enjoyed the denouement of this book better than the first book, as it provides some nice insight into where the main characters will be going after the story ends.

But overall this is still a very flawed book. I’d sum it up with the old chestnut, “If you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you’ll like.” As for me, I think Bujold’s career has pretty much bottomed out with this pair of fantasy novels, and I certainly have no interest in reading any of her later fantasies. I’ll probably read further books in the Vorkosigan series (even though I’m not wild about the path that’s taken, either), but the action and adventure and humor that characterized her earlier novels has dwindled and finally vanished, and instead she’s writing dreary dramas with flat characters, and that’s just not worth my time to read.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold: The Book of Destiny HC, by Mark Waid, George Pérez, Jerry Ordway, Bob Wiacek & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #18, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Jerry Ordway, Mick Gray, Kris Justice & Nathan Massengill (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #45, by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul & Livesay (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #3, by Matt Wagner & Amy Reeder Hadley (DC/Vertigo)
  • Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #1 of 2, by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • newuniversal: Conqueror #1, by Simon Spurrier & Eric Nguyen (Marvel)
  • Nova #16, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
The Brave and the Bold vol 2: The Book of Destiny Although I loved the first volume in Mark Waid and George Pérez’s The Brave and the Bold (The Lords of Luck), I was not nearly as enthusiastic about the second one. Although The Book of Destiny reads better in collected form than as individual issues, it still shows all of its warts: It’s got a hodge-podge of characters thrown together for shakier-than-usual reasons (Ultraman?), and a plot whose villain’s motivation feels insufficiently crafted, with a sudden reversal at the end which also doesn’t work for me. But the big problem is that Waid’s characterizations – usually his strong suit – fail him badly here. His depiction of Power Girl in the first chapter is about as ham-handed as I can recall seeing, and the Flash/Doom Patrol story also features one-note characterizations which often feel contrived and out-of-place.

The best story in the volume is the short Hawkman/Atom yarn, although the beginning of the Superman/Ultraman one is pretty funny. And of course Pérez’s artwork is great, as usual, and if you’re losing George Pérez in the middle of a story – as happened here – you can’t do much better than replacing him with Jerry Ordway, who gets to pencil the finale.

It’s the artwork that motivated me to pick up the hardcover of this – well, that and the fact that I already owned the first volume in hardcover – but anyone else who wants to read the back half of the Waid/Pérez run on this title would probably do better to wait for the (cheaper) paperback. Overall, it was a big disappointment compared to the terrific first half.

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1 Superman Beyond 3D is a 2-part story spinning out of Final Crisis #3, in which a Monitor, Zilla Vallo, plucks Superman from the side of Lois Lane’s hospital bed to take him outside reality on a quest to save her. She’s recruited several of his counterparts from parallel worlds to help: Ultraman, Captain Marvel, Overman (from a world in which the Nazis won World War II) and Quantum Superman (based on a combination of Captain Atom and Doctor Manhattan, it seems like). They end up in limbo – the place where forgotten characters go to live forever in obscurity – and learn about their nemesis, Mandrakk.

I’ve been pretty down on Final Crisis so far, and unfortunately this issue fits right in with that: It’s a bunch of gosh-wow stuff thrown together so that it makes no sense. Why bring together the five Supermen? Who thought bringing in Ultraman would be a good idea? (Although if you’re an Ultraman fan, that means you can get a double dose this week.) What exactly are they supposed to accomplish? Who is Zilla Vallo and why is this her fight? Why go to limbo? To be fair, it’s the first issue and arguably Morrison is going to explain it all in the second issue. Unfortunately, his track record suggests that a lot of it won’t be explained at all, it’s just there for the gosh-wow factor, but that’s not the reaction it gets from me.

Much of it also feels like old territory, too. The form of Limbo is certainly old news, whether it feels like it’s from Morrison’s own Animal Man of 20 years ago, or the Supremacy from Alan Moore’s Supreme, and in any event it feels a lot like the Bizarro world from All-Star Superman, and the concept seems like just a more depressing version of . Morrison references the Bleed, which is a Warren Ellis interpretation of the multiverse, and Morrison doesn’t add anything new to it here. And on top of this we have the silliness with some pages being in 3-D – a pair of 3-D glasses are included – which adds nothing to the story. (At least it wasn’t all in 3-D, or I’d have passed on it entirely.)

So the story isn’t very much. The art is sometimes very good, and sometimes rather iffy. I think I liked Doug Mahnke’s work best back when he was drawing The Mask, since his sense of shape and form gave his books a very solid feel, the exact opposite of the Image style which was prevalent in those days. He’s changed quite a bit since then, working more with shadows and layouts, and I think it hasn’t been a change for the better. Some of his pages look great – especially the two-page spread in which Zilla Vallo contacts Superman – but others look very awkward: Any page in which a character is grimacing or gasping or shouting or gritting their teeth, and their faces just look deeply unnatural (which means that Ultraman always looks unnatural).

It’s weird to think that Grant Morrison, who’s usually one of the more innovative ideas men in comics, seems to be retracing the steps of Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, and himself, but that seems to be what’s happening. But this could still be a pretty good story, except that Morrison seems to have lost sight of giving the readers a reason to care. Superman’s supposedly doing this to save Lois, but what ‘this’ is he doing? And the adventure is all too metaphysical to have any emotional resonance (not really surprising, as emotional resonance has never been Morrison’s strong suit). Is this story really going to matter? My guess is no.

newuniversal: Conqueror newuniversal: Conqueror is another one-shot providing background to Warren Ellis’ newuniversal series, this one taking place in 2689 B.C., when a White Event has given several individuals in this primitive world the powers of the New Universe heroes we’re seeing play out in the main title. In this story, one of the empowered characters has gone badly wrong, and he’s manipulating the others for his own end, to the detriment of the timeline. The beings from outside the timeline are trying to warn the others, and this issue is mostly about the Star Brand character – the Conqueror of the title – trying to figure out what’s going on.

It’s a story of small scope, and it works on those terms, although I found the ending to be too abrupt and unsatisfying. Eric Nguyen’s art has a sketchy quality to it, but it works for me in the gloomy atmosphere it brings to the story – although as with many artists these days (it seems), he needs to work on drawing background so the story doesn’t seem like it’s taking place in mid-air.

newuniversal is quietly becoming one of the more intriguing mainstream comics. I hope Ellis keeps with it and sees it through to a conclusion. (Of course, I’m still waiting for that last issue of Planetary…)

Sibling Revelry

For a rapid-fire, three-day introduction to the Bay Area, you could do what my sister Katy and I did the first half of this week:

Katy and I have had a tempestuous – is that the right word? Sure, why not – relationship. We didn’t really get along at all in our teenaged years, and we have rather different memories of what it was like growing up in our home town, though to be fair on that count our experiences were quite different for two people who went through the same school system and grew up in the same town with the same parents. So all things considered we didn’t really have a lot of motivation to become friends as adults. I think what changed is that we just grew up (eventually), and my nephew Ivan I think motivated Katy to reconnect, as she drove up with him to visit the last two times I went back to visit my parents. So although I can’t speak for her, on my end I was perfectly comfortable having her stay for a few days before attending the conference she’s at for the second half of this week.

Maybe I pack a little too much into visits from family and friends, but we had a lot of fun, and ate a lot of good food besides. We had great weather – she came out just ahead of the heat wave that’s scorching us today – and had some nice quiet evenings with Debbi and the cats. And as with my Mom, Blackjack was charmed by Katy and visited him every night to snooze with her.

To my amusement, when I introduced her to my cow-orkers on a tour through work, three of them asked whether he had any insight into where my punning nature comes from. She doesn’t really know, though; I think I’m just a prodigy.

So it was fun, and she might even come back! And, for those of you who know both of us, here’s the evidence:

Me and Katy

This Week’s Haul

A small week, but one chock-full of geeky goodness. Which seems fitting, since this is my 500th post to Fascination Place!

  • The Brave and the Bold #16, by Mark Waid & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #1 of 5, by Geoff Johns, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #6 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Jamal Ingle & Robin Riggs, and Ron Marz, Fernando Pasarin & Scott McKenna (DC)
  • Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man vol 101 HC, collecting Amazing Spider-Man #88-99, by Stan Lee, John Romita & Gil Kane (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #4, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
The Brave and the Bold #16 Mark Waid’s run on The Brave and the Bold comes to a quiet end with a decent team-up of Superman and Catwoman. I’m not a big fan of Scott Kolins’ artwork these days – it seems like it’s getting increasingly less polished in its finishes, which I find rather off-putting – but it’s okay. The series never quite recovered from its stumbles starting with issue #7, nor the loss of George Pérez’s artwork, so it feels like it kind of limped to a finish. The first 6-issue story was terrific, though.

But the series is continuing with some fill-ins by Marv Wolfman, and then I guess J. Michael Straczynski is going to be the next regular writer. It’ll be interesting to see how that turns out, since Straczynski is a very low-key writer (in his comics work, anyway) and B&B always feels like it should be full of bombast and improbable, wild creativity.

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #1 If ever there was a series made for fanboys, it’s Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds. Boy, where to even begin? Well to start with, it’s drawn by George Pérez, who’s probably my favorite comics artist ever, and who’s noted for packing an amazing amount of detail into each panel, but who’s hardly ever drawn the Legion of Super-Heroes (nor, often, Superman). And the art is just gorgeous, as you’d expect.

The story all by itself has so many back-references to the history of the Legion and this decade’s DC continuity that anyone unfamiliar with it probably isn’t part of the target audience: The Time Trapper plucks Superboy Prime out of the time stream in the wake of the Sinestro Corps War and sends him to the 31st century, where the world is picking up the pieces in the wake of the defeat of Earth-Man during the recent Action Comics story “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes”. Prime visits the Superman Museum, where he learns about the Legion and how Superman – whom he hates – inspired the team and the creation of the United Planets, and also about the Legion of Super-Villains, whom he breaks out of prison to they can help him tear down everything Superman inspired.

Meanwhile, the Legion are being interrogated by the UP’s governing body, since many of them feel the Legion is no longer needed. Their one-time backer, R.J. Brande, shows up to speak in support of them, and it seems to be working, until he’s abruptly murdered, and the fact that he’s actually a Durlan is publicly revealed. This throws the UP into chaos. Other Legionnaires are busy finding and/or rescuing their missing teammates, but several of them can’t be found. Amidst all of this, they find out about Prime’s missing, and they summon Superman from the 20th century. Brainiac 5 reasons that the best way to fight the villains is to recruit their counterparts from two parallel worlds, and while Superman thinks that will help, he also thinks that Prime can’t merely be stopped, nor should he be killed, but that they need to find some way to redeem him, to bring him back to the hero he was during the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

If that made your head spin, then this series might not be for you, but as a longtime Legion fan, I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Now, to enjoy it you do basically have to avoid worrying about continuity, as there are continuity errors all over the place, and I assume it’s because Geoff Johns just didn’t want to bother dealing with all the little details which would prevent it from being a fun story, not least because he clearly wants to tell a story about the Legion he grew up with. Just a few of the differences I spotted:

  • The “classic” Legion clearly spins off from the end of Paul Levitz’ run on the book, and Keith Giffen’s “Five Years Later” stories never took place. For instance, the Legion remembers Superman as having been a member, so the Pocket Universe stories never took place, and Mon-El is his original self, rather than his FYL “Valor” self. I think FYL started out strong but fizzled after half a year or so, so I don’t mind this being pushed out of continuity.
  • The panel depicting the Zero Hour rebooted Legion shows some characters who are dead in that continuity, such as Monstress and Leviathan.
  • The Mark Waid/Barry Kitson Legion (the one currently being depicted in the ongoing Legion series) shows Supergirl as a member, even though she departed a while ago.
  • Superboy Prime is still Superboy, even though he’d had adventures as Superman Prime during Countdown – another example of Countdown being basically willfully disregarded by later series (which isn’t such a bad thing, as it was awful).

There are a lot of interesting things that bringing the three Legions could result in. For instance, maybe one of them is the Legion of Earth 2. Or having characters meet who are substantially different among the worlds, such as Princess Projectra and Sensor. I don’t expect them to clear up which Karate Kid stayed in the 20th century at the end of “The Lightning Saga”, though. Honestly I don’t think anyone at DC editorial has any idea why they bothered with that plot thread, anyway, since it ended up going nowhere.

The biggest risk the series runs is that of not just having a single large cast of Legionnaires, but three of them, and characterization getting lost in the shuffle – always a risk with any Legion series. But the most encouraging thing is Superman’s stated goal at the end of the issue: Not to just to stop Prime, but to redeem him. I’ve been pretty unhappy with how this character has been treated, and finding a way to redeem him would be a challenge well worthy of a 5-issue series illustrated by George Pérez. Here’s hoping Geoff Johns can pull it off; he’s off to a good start.

(Oh, one more thing: There’s no apparent connection between this series and Final Crisis that I can see. Maybe they’ll work it in there somehow, but I rather hope it ends up standing on its own.)

Anyway, yes, I’m a big Legion geek. I don’t think that “my” Legion will ever truly appear again, but I do enjoy reading good Legion stories.

Guardians of the Galaxy #4 Guardians of the Galaxy is saddled with a Secret Invasion crossover in its 4th issue, much like Nova got stuck with an Annihilation: Conquest crossover in its 4th, but this one makes even less sense since the Guardians don’t operate on Earth, which is where the invasion is taking place! but Abnett & Lanning play a neat trick by locking the Guardians on their extradimensional home base of Knowhere, and revealing that there are shape-shifting Skrulls infiltrating that place, too! Plus, the Guardians find that many inhabitants of Knowhere don’t really trust or like them, and a couple of the Guardians members are acting a little oddly. From the issue’s last panel, it looks like things are really going to blow up next month, so this might be pretty good as non-crossover crossover stories go. If nothing else, DnA are taking every opportunity to keep advancing the Guardians’ own story in the middle of all this.

A Phelpsian Post

The Olympics seem to be on everyone’s mind lately, so here are a couple of the neater things I’ve found on the Web about them:

First, frame-by-frame evidence of Michael Phelps’ 0.01-second victory in the 100-meter butterfly. Looks pretty conclusive to me. (via Daring Fireball)

After winning 8 gold medals at this year’s contests, maybe Michael Phelps would like to star in some film roles. Here’s one he seems well-suited for.

Well-suited! Har! But seriously, the resemblance is uncanny.

This Week’s Haul

  • Action Comics #868, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC)
  • Booster Gold #11, by Chuck Dixon, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Sparks #3 of 6, by Christopher Folino & J.M. Ringuet (Catastrophic)
  • B.P.R.D.: The Warning #2 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Hellboy: The Crooked Man #2 of 3, by Mike Mignola & Richard Corben (Dark Horse)
  • Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #1 of 5, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #1 Atomic Robo is back with a new series, this time taking place during the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, in which Robo is dropped onto the island to take out a group of mechanized suits which the Nazis have been using to decimate Allied forces. I had mixed reactions to the first series: There was a lot to like in Wegener’s clean artwork and the wacky inventiveness of it, but the stories felt like a series of vignettes and thus the series as a whole felt rather lightweight. So I’m encouraged that Dogs of War will be a more substantive long-form story with a little more meaning behind it.

Fundamentally, though, Atomic Robo is cut from the “big monsters smashing each other” cloth that Hellboy comes from. I don’t know why Hellboy – at least the earlier stories – felt more substantive than Robo has so far, maybe it was because it was new and different at the time. Maybe the characterizations felt deeper, as I really still have no feel for who Robo is as a character, other than a big metal smart-ass, much less any of his supporting cast. In any event I’m hoping this new series will show some significant growth over the first one.

Busy Work

So yesterday Debbi gives me a call near the end of the day: She’d gone home early due to a slow day at her office, got home and was puttering around the house, when the power went out. No idea why, but she called PG&E and was told that it was targeted to be fixed in the next two hours.

I got home an hour later, and we went out to dinner and did a little shopping. We got home after the 2-hour window, and the power was still out. So I called PG&E again and they said the outage was due to an equipment failure, and it would be fixed in – yup – the next two hours.

Fortunately, 20 minutes later the power came on again, saving us from having to figure out where else we could go to watch Michael Phelps win his 7th gold medal of this year’s Olympics.

Unfortunately, when I opened my laptop to check baseball scores I learned (after running around the house a couple of times) that our phone service was out, both voice and DSL. So I called AT&T and learned that they didn’t have any service appointments over the weekend, and only a 12-hour appointment available on Monday. Grr. (Naturally, I didn’t actually talk to a human during all of this, and it took me nearly 8 minutes to navigate their phone menu system along the way.)

Half an hour later, I checked the phone again and lo and behold it was working again, Intarwebs and all.

So this morning I called AT&T to cancel the appointment.

You guessed it, I’ve been on hold for 30 minutes waiting to cancel an appointment.

Fortunately, shortly after I typed the previous sentence, I got through to a human and within 2 minutes she’s routed me to the right place and I cancelled my appointment. Yay!

Though along the way I learned that I could have cancelled the appointment on-line.


Here’s hoping the rest of the weekend goes more smoothly.

This Week’s Haul

  • Final Crisis #3 of 7, by Grant Morrison & J.G. Jones (DC)
  • Avengers/Invaders #4 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Steve Sadowski (Marvel)
  • Hulk #5, by Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuinness (Marvel)
  • The Twelve #7 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Weston & Garry Leach (Marvel)
  • Echo #5, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • The Boys #21, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Star Trek: Assignment Earth #4 of 12, by John Byrne (IDW)
Final Crisis #3 I’m not sure two reviews of Final Crisis #3 could be more different than Brian Cronin’s and what I’m about to write. Cronin loved it, while I, well, didn’t.

Almost everything Morrison does here is either boring, or has been done before. A few people seem to be impressed with how he’s handling bringing back Barry Allen (the silver age Flash), but c’mon, it’s not like Barry hasn’t been popping up from time to time for the last 20 years anyway. The guy’s a time traveller! Maybe he’s back for good, but – so? Hal Jordan (the silver age Green Lantern) died, and came back not once (as the Spectre) but twice (as Green Lantern again, complete with his own ongoing series). There’s nothing in this to get even a little excited about.

Almost everything in the series feels like it’s been done before. The running subplot involves bringing back characters from Morrison’s Seven Soldiers series (and what a mess of a narrative that was). The main threat is of Darkseid and his minions of Apokolips conquering the world – “the day that evil won” as the series’ tag line goes. But Morrison used this exact same premise – and used it very well – in his own run on JLA a decade ago!

This issue also features the conscription of superheroes to fight the threat, hearkening back to the formation of the All-Star Squadron (which is explicitly referenced), but doing so makes no sense: Far direr threats have arisen in the DC universe in the past without resorting to such measures. Why this, why now? History suggests that simply putting out the call to all hands would be sufficient – these are the DC heroes, after all.

This series is just one instance after another of things that either don’t make sense, or just aren’t fun or exciting or thought-provoking. The longer Final Crisis goes on, the more pointless it seems. If this really is the “final crisis” of the DC universe, it’s because the concept has jumped the shark – there are no more interesting crises to tell.

Avengers/Invaders #4 Alex Ross/Jim Krueger projects don’t have a good track record in my estimation, going all the way back to my bitter disappointment with Earth X, but I keep trying them out anyway. Project Superpowers over at Dynamite has been pretty awful, but to my surprise I’m rather enjoying Avengers/Invaders. The premise is that the Invaders from World War II – Captain America and Bucky, the Human Torch and Toro, and Namor the Sub-Mariner – have been accidentally brought forward to 2008 New York City, along with (and without their knowledge) a US soldier of that era. This is problematic since in the present Marvel Universe, Cap is dead, Bucky is the new Cap, Namor is King of Atlantis and has withdrawn from the surface world, and, well, I don’t know what the status of the Human Torch and Toro are, since it seems like it changes every few years. Moreover, the Invaders think this is all some Nazi plot, especially since Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. capture them while trying to figure out how to return them to their own time. And frankly, after the Civil War I can’t really fault anyone for accusing Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. of being Nazis. Anyway, two groups of Avengers end up fighting over the Invaders which is where this issue leaves off.

I think what’s winning me over with this series is that it’s treating time travel seriously and not as some sort of gimmick: The adult Bucky finds the Invaders Cap’s shield and shows up at the end of this issue, clearly having memories of this adventure. The current Namor also recalls what happened and deliberately sends his younger self off without help from Atlantis to fulfill his destiny. And the soldier meets his future self – who’s nearly 90 years old – and compares notes. It’s all played for drama rather than convenience, and with the hint that the Invaders’ removal has also changed history, with dire consequences on the way once the changes catch up to the current day.

Admittedly, none of this is especially original, but it’s a lot less ponderous than the usual Ross/Krueger fare, with good art by Steve Sadowski. 12 issues might end up being too long if there aren’t some new plot twists in store, but so far, so good.

The Twelve #7 Speaking of heroes transported from World War II to the present day, J. Michael Straczynski’s The Twelve starts its second half this month. Like Ross, Straczynski’s another comics writer whose stuff I find to be too slow without much ever happening. (His current run on Thor is a perfect example of this.) The Twelve isn’t exactly gripping, but the mix of plot (which is shaping up to be a murder mystery of sorts) and drama (the heroes meeting their old – now very old – friends and their descendants) is nonetheless engaging. The gorgeous artwork by Weston and Leach helps quite a bit, too.

This issue continues the theme of characters reconnecting with their past 63 years later, as Captain Wonder meets his former sidekick, Tim, now an old man. The guy’s hard a rough time of it, as his wife and sons all died before he was revived. But the ongoing story makes some progress as Master Mind Excello tells the Phantom Reporter of some premonitions he’s had regarding the group, and the Reporter both investigates a murder in the city and then confronts the Black Widow about her nighttime excursions.

There are lots of hints that funny things are going on: Dynamic Man might be involved in the aforementioned murder, the Widow is being used by some demon as an angel of vengeance, and the inert robot Electro apparently has been wandering off as well, but who’s been doing what is still unclear.

The main thing I regret about this series is that the cast feels too large for its scope, as several characters seem both fairly generic and don’t get much screen time, which makes me wonder why they’re there. With five issues left to go perhaps they’ll play a role. But although the series superficially feels a bit like Watchmen, the storytelling is pretty standard and not very dense, so there’s only a limited amount of space per issue to tell the story, so perhaps not. Still, I’m certainly enjoying it enough to want to see how it turns out.

The Boys #21 I’m still enjoying The Boys, Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson’s brutal take on amoral superheroes, but the current story, “I Tell You No Lie G.I.”, has been somewhat disappointing. Early on it seemed like the world was overrun by superheroes, who mostly (maybe entirely) got their powers from a special drug which seemed to have gotten leaked to many companies and governments able to produce these supers, and The Boys were a covert group trying to rein in the worst abuses, especially a few corporate-run American superheroes.

This story reveals a lot of the series’ backstory, and the book’s scope is narrowing to being a conspiracy story: The drug which creates heroes is mainly controlled by a single company (Vought American), which is using it to become a major player on the national and world stage. I find this disappointing because giving the heroes a major villain and target (Vought American) seems just too simplistic; having a few foes who are representative of the larger problems – but a problem which is too big to be tackled by a single covert team – would be much more interesting, I think. The series is feeling more and more like Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, only with superpowers and some gratuitous sex and violence (well, okay, even more gratuitous sex and violence than in Transmet).

Or maybe I’m just tired of this sort of conspiracy story.