This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #15, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Final Crisis #5 of 7, by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Marco Rudy & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Echo #8, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #2, by John Arcudi & John Severin (Dark Horse)
  • Thieves & Kings: Apprentices Part One, by Mark Oakley (I-Box)
  • Invincible #56, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Final Crisis #5 Maybe it’s too easy to keep bashing Final Crisis. “This issue: Nothing happens – again!” It is fun, though.

But it’s so easy because this is one bad mini-series. Grant Morrison’s storytelling seems to have headed south in a big way around the time of Seven Soldiers, and it seems like Final Crisis is the nadir of that plummet. Characterization is somewhere between “nonexistent” and “incomprehensible”, the plot doesn’t make much sense, and there’s basically no sense of tension (largely because there are no characters we can relate to). It’s like Morrison set out to present the sterling example of a story which seems cool and deep and multifaceted, but is anything but those things. It’s not just style-over-substance; there ain’t much style here, either.

In this latest issue, Darkseid has been resurrected (from what?) and has taken over half the world’s population with his mental domination (again?). The remaining heroes are launching their final strike against Darkseid’s troops, though it seems like they don’t have much idea what’s really going on. The Alpha Lantern charges against Green Lantern are exposed for the sham they are, and the Guardians of the Universe send him and his cohorts to Earth, with “24 hours to save the universe”. Superman is missing (he’s off having his own adventures in a spin-off mini-series), but the apparent savior emerges in the form of the fallen Monitor who seems to be awaken by a Mother Box in the form of a Rubik’s Cube. Meanwhile the Flashes, whose presence seemed key to the story a few issues ago, don’t show up at all.

Apparently Mary Marvel is possessed by Darkseid’s sadistic scientist, Desaad, which is why she’s got a bad haircut and is dressed in leather, but it’s not clear to me why she’s the only hero who’s so possessed; most of the other Apokaliptians have taken over ordinary people. It doesn’t make much sense. And then, in this issue she takes out Black Adam by throwing a car at him, which is the sort of thing he ought to be able to shrug off and barely notice. Stupid.

The art is very pretty. Carlos Pacheco splits time with J.G. Jones, and the difference is barely noticible on casual reading. But Pacheco is a top-tier artist, so that’s almost to be expected.

I just don’t see how Morrison can salvage this series in 2 issues, nor that it could be anything that DC could build on in their universe for 2009. It’s relentlessly nihilistic, and largely nonsensical. It’s becoming hard to understand why this project was ever green-lighted.

(For a very different opinion, there’s Brian Cronin’s review; what he finds awesome I just find to be tiresome retread.)

Thieves & Kings: Apprentices Part One In many ways, Thieves & Kings should be the last comic book I’d become a fan of: It’s set in a medieval fantasy world, which I generally find boring. Writer/artist Mark Oakley’s style has a quasi-Magna look to it, with angular faces and big-dot eyes and all that, and I can’t stand the Magna art style. It’s a lengthy ongoing story which ebbs and flows and rarely seems to bring its plot or characters to a stopping point; in many ways it’s an ongoing soap opera. It’s portentious and often sentimental, and it’s frequently very difficult to figure out how its extended timeline fits together. And, it alternates graphic sequences with illustrated text sections, the latter of which annoy the hell out of me in most other books.

And yet, since I first discovered it over ten years ago, it’s been one of my favorite independent comics.

The key is that it’s strongly character-driven. The two main characters – a young thief, Rubel, and a young sorceress, Heath – both start off as young teenagers, and despite their skills and maturity of their age, they often find themselves in circumstances they just don’t have the experience to be able to handle. We see them grow up in a land with magic (some visible, some merely implied) under extraordinary circumstances, and Oakley rarely sends them down the obvious path. The supporting cast is also strong: The eccentric but powerful wizard Quinton Zempfester; the Shadow Lady and her murky goals; an oppressive Prince of the land of Oceansend and his rebellious, exiled sister.

The series has been on hiatus for a while, and now it’s back in a new 104-page volume, which apparently will be the format of the series from now on, which is okay with me; after the hiatus I’m happy to have more of the series in any form!

This volume focuses on a pair of young sorceresses, Kim and Leahanna, who recently left their no-good mentor, Locumire, and have thrown in with Rubel and Heath. Both of them also have ties to the Shadow Lady, and this book explores those ties through some flashbacks, as well as Leahanna having a public and violent meltdown when confronted with the brutality of the Prince’s soldiers.

The book has the series’ trademark character bits, but also a big confrontation which is a rarity in the series and thus quite a shift in tone when it happens. It also some humorous bits, such as when Rubel gets his feet turned to metal to keep him out of the way. Oakley’s artwork is clean and easy to follow, and his ability to draw complex cityscapes is among the best in the business. It may not be the ideal place to jump in to the story, but it’s not bad.

If you try this one and enjoy it, or if you’re willing to just jump in and start from the beginning, I highly recommend the first two volumes, The Red Book and The Green Book, which you can order from Oakley’s web site. They’re probably the two best volumes in the series so far, and the series flagged a little before it went on hiatus. But I’m hoping the time away will have reinvigorated Oakley and that we’ll see new stuff fairly regularly and that things will move along a little better.

Time will tell if Thieves & Kings ultimately delivers on the considerable promise of its early issues – after all this time I’m still not sure where it’s heading – but I think it’s fair to say it’s greatly underappreciated. I’m elated to see it come back.