This Week’s Haul

  • Action Comics #894, by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #44, by Marc Guggenheim & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #28, by Matt Wagner & Marian Churchland (DC/Vertigo)
  • Time Masters: Vanishing Point #4 of 6, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Wonder Woman #604, by J. Michael Straczynski, Don Kramer, Eduardo Pansica & Jay Leisten (DC)
  • Zatanna #6, by Paul Dini & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Captain America #611, by Ed Brubaker & Daniel Acuña (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #584, by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • Incognito: Bad Influences #1 of 6, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Incorruptible #11, by Mark Waid & Marcio Takara (Boom)
  • Hellboy/Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice #1, by Evan Dorkin, Mike Mignola & Jill Thompson (Dark Horse)
  • Dynamo 5: Sins of the Father #5 of 5, by Jat Faerber & Júlio Brilha (Image Comics)
This month’s Action Comics has gotten a lot of press because it features a rare appearance by a Neil Gaiman character – in this case, Death – in a mainstream DC Universe title. Word is that Gaiman helped script her appearance, although oddly the character doesn’t really “feel” like the Death from Gaiman’s Sandman: She feels a little too much like a teenager, and a little too vague and mysterious than the character we’ve seen before. Yes yes, the whole joke about Death is that she’s a cheerful teenage girl doing this somewhat melancholy job, but the point is that it feels like her portrayal here misses the mark. Whether or not Gaiman wrote her, it feels like someone else. Not that what we have here is unlikeable, it just feels off.

Though Pete Woods does do a boffo job of drawing her.

What of the story itself? Lex Luthor has become so hard-headed these days that it’s basically a case of his irresistible force meeting Death’s immovable object – and she prevails, of course. It’s entertaining, but unfortunately the illumination it shines on Luthor’s character is that he’s pretty one-dimensional these days: Rather than the monomania about Superman that the silver age Luthor had, now he’s got a monomania about acquiring power. It’s unfortunate because it makes me a little more pessimistic that Luthor can really carry the title for much longer, unless Paul Cornell makes him a more nuanced figure.

Speaking of books I’m pessimistic about, the new JSA creative team arrives this month, and the results are not pretty.

I must admit I’m not really a fan of Scott Kolins’ art style these days: The overuse of gray tones, mixed with the painterly coloring job that accompanies it just feels overly rendered for the fairly straightforward books he’s illustrated. Honestly I liked the work he did on his run on The Flash with Geoff Johns a decade a ago better: Stylized, but with more interesting linework.

Marc Guggenheim’s story, for me, got a reaction of, “What, this again?” Jay Garrick – the original Flash – is considering retirement, to become mayor of a small city. An immensely powerful individual shows up to threaten that city, kicks the JSA’s ass until they get it together to put him down, but the victory is pyrrhic. The downer tone continues the feeling that Bill Willingham brought to the book, and I didn’t think it worked then, either. And it seems like we’re constantly seeing the golden age JSAers consider retiring, or coming out of retirement, or whatever. The whole issue felt tremendously manipulative and it was difficult to care about any of it, because it felt like the writer didn’t really understand or care about the characters.

Honestly I’m not sure why I’m even buying the book these days, as the team has really not been worth much since most of the golden age members were killed off in the 90s. It’s a sad thing when Geoff Johns’ run on the book looks like the good old days, because they really weren’t much good. With half a year left until issue #50, I’ll likely stick around that long to see if Guggenheim has something interesting planned for the landmark, but I think that’ll be it for me.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips bring us the first issue of the sequel to Incognito, a series I struggled enjoying at first, but which won me over completely in the final issue. This issue takes a step back from that last issue, being perhaps a little too cynical. It also feels like it’s treading on ground Brubaker previously covered in his outstanding series Sleeper (also with Phillips).

So that’s all a little disappointing, but Brubaker is too good a writer to let that keep him down: Zack Overkill is still trying to figure out his purpose in life now that he knows where he came from, and now that he’s working for a superspy-type organization. He has a tragic encounter from a figure from his past (well, not quite his past, but, well, you’ll see), and then gets assigned to infiltrate a villainous organization.

Incognito has struggled to make Zack someone the viewer can really feel for, but it mostly makes up for it in action, suspense, and clever plots. It’s probably the weakest of the Brubaker/Phillips books because of this character deficit, but it’s still quite good and decidedly different from most other superhero comics. If you enjoy a little pulp and noir in your action stories, check it out.