Hey, would you look at this, it’s an entry finally posted in a timely manner!
- The Brave and the Bold #31, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chad Hardin, Justiniano, Wayne Faucher & Walden Wong (DC)
- Fables #92, by Bill Willingham & David Lapham (DC/Vertigo)
- Green Lantern Corps #44, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Tom Nguyen & Keith Champagne (DC)
- Power Girl #8, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
- Starman #81, by James Robinson, Fernando Dagnino & Bill Sienkiewicz (DC)
- The Incredible Hercules #140, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lante & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
- Nova #33, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
- The Thing: Project Pegasus deluxe HC, by Ralph Macchio, Mark Gruenwald, Sal Buscema, John Byrne, George Pérez, Sam Grainger, Alfredo Alcala, Joe Sinnott & Gene Day (Marvel)
- X-Men: The Asgardian Wars HC, by Chris Claremont, Paul Smith, Arthur Adams, Bob Wiacek, Terry Austin, Al Gordon & Mike Mignola (Marvel)
- Incorruptible #2, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
- RASL #6, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon)
I picked up a couple of DC books this week which are largely humorous, but they couldn’t be much more different if they’d tried. The Brave and the Bold features the uncomfortable pairing of the Atom and the Joker, where the Joker is suffering from a brain illness, and only the Atom can save him, by shrinking down far enough to deliver a capsule to a point in his brain that might cure him – or kill him. The story opens with Atom being unable to get to Arkham at first because he can only travel through land telephone lines, not cell phones, and then features several pages of Atom refusing to help save the Joker until he’s told that the cure might not even work, so Atom could do his best and still fail. The phone idea is cute, as long as you don’t think about it too hard (throwing an arbitrary limit on an ability that doesn’t make much sense in the first place is always silly; wouldn’t Atom also have trouble with fiber optic cables in the phone system?), but wrestling with his conscience doesn’t work at all. The Atom if an old-style hero who’s largely stuck to those roots, and while he might lament the need to save the life of an enemy, his over-the-top heart-wringing here feels completely out of character.
The rest of the story is okay, and played more seriously: While in the Joker’s brain, Atom gets flashes of Joker’s childhood memories – the making of a psychopath, as it were. It’s not terribly insightful, and has flashes of gallows humor, which still isn’t terribly funny. There’s isn’t much covered here that hasn’t been covered in many Joker stories previously, and the story wasn’t as satisfying overall as, say, John Byrne’s tale in his Generations series where one Batman has to save the Joker from being haunted to death by the ghost of an earlier Batman.
But mostly it’s that the humorous bits go so horribly wrong that makes this story rather painful to read. Quite a letdown after last month’s decent Green Lantern/Doctor Fate yarn. The format of The Brave and the Bold seems to be exposing many of Straczynski’s flaws as a writer, and it’s not pretty.
On the other hand, while the set-up of this 2-part Power Girl story disappointed me, the payoff in this issue is considerably funnier. Okay, the cliffhanger from last month gets handled in 4 pages (despite “hours of fighting” having elapsed between issues), but after that, rather than PG being (theoretically) at the mercy of Vartox, she manages to tame him down to civilized levels, and laughs out loud at some of the ridiculousness of his plans. There are several giggle-worthy moments in the issue, and everything works out for the best for both characters.
I still think Power Girl would be better served with some more serious stories – since very little about the series has been serious so far – but at least they got the lightheartedness of this issue right. And certainly more right than Straczynski did in The Brave and the Bold.
The most-heralded Blackest Night series revival has to be this one issue of James Robinson’s Starman. Naturally Robinson – who writes the issue – sticks to his guns by having Jack Knight stay retired despite his brother being raised by the black lantern rings to wreak havoc on Opal City; instead we catch up with some of his supporting cast to see where they’ve ended up since Jack left and his father died. Naturally the Shade figures as the prominent hero. It’s a clever way to do another Starman issue without really doing another Starman issue. Even the art evokes some of the low-key feel of the original series, although I’ve never been a big fan of Bill Sienkiewicz’s endless squiggles as an inker.
It works as an add-on to the original series, rather than just a cynical Blackest Night tie-in. (Don McPherson notes that readers of the series are likely to enjoy the issue more than people surfing by due to the tie-in, which is exactly right.)
I’ve heard a rumor (which may be baseless) that Robinson is interested in doing a Shade series. I’d totally sign up for that.
If you want to see how they did good superhero comics when I was a teenager (in the 1980s), Marvel has two fine hardcover collections out this week. First (and best), is the Thing in Project Pegasus, from his old Marvel Two-in-One series. If you can believe it, there was once a series (it ran for 100 issues!) which mostly featured this member of the Fantastic Four teaming up with a different hero every month, often with good stories and better artwork. Project Pegasus was the apex of the series, a 6-issue story featuring some third- and fourth-string supporting characters, but what made it work was the setting: Ol’ blue-eyes signs on for a tour as a security guard at Project Pegasus, a high-security prison and research institute for super-powered criminals, as well as heroes and innocents who need some sort of high-tech treatment. During his stint, an outside organization infiltrates the project for their own nefarious aims, leading to a major disaster (when their main agent goes rogue) which Ben and company have to fight.
Admittedly, the motivations of the infiltrating organization are a little vague, but it’s still cracking good superhero adventure stuff. Great art by Byrne, Pérez and company, too. The series has also been collected in paperback in the past, but the hardcover has a 2-part story which introduced Pegasus 2 years earlier. Check it out.
Then there’s X-Men: The Asgardian Wars, which was arguably Chris Claremont’s last hurrah as a great comics writer. The Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants titles (the main X-books in the late 80s) had been spluttering along in gradual artistic decline (in my opinion) when Claremont put together this pair of 2-part stories featuring Marvel’s mutants facing off against the Norse god Loki. First Loki tries to gain favors from even more powerful gods by forcing a boon on humanity, and the X-Men and the Canadian team Alpha Flight have to deal with the consequences. Then, perturbed by the X-Men’s interference, Loki abducts Storm (who was powerless at the time) and accidentally knocks a collection of New Mutants across the realm of Asgard, where they find themselves rather out of their league. The X-Men join in the fun to foil Loki, who’s really just entertaining himself while waiting for the right moment to make a play for the throne of Asgard.
The first story is one of Claremont’s better moral dilemmas for his characters, putting the heroes on opposite sides of a complex issue, and it’s lushly illustrated by the great Paul Smith. The second story more of a straightforward adventure story, and it’s drawn by Arthur Adams just as he was getting good, although it still has a little too much of the “boobs, boobs and more boobs” style he sometimes lapses into, and the finishes are not as clean nor the work as detailed as his later stuff.
But honestly I think this was the last great X-Men story. Yeah yeah, Grant Morrison, Josh Whedon, Warren Ellis, blah blah blah. None of them turned out X-Men stories as good as this. And this was just the last gasp of the “All-New, All-Different X-Men”; it used to be even better.