This Week’s Haul

Wow, a tiny week this week:

  • Blackest Night #4, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Oclair Albert, Vicente Cifuentes & David Beaty (DC)
  • DC Universe: Legacies #2 of 10, by Len Wein, Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert, Scott Kolins & J.H. Williams (DC)
  • Fables #96, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • The Boys #43, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
That cover to Brightest Day #4 has nothing at all to do with the contents of the issue. Okay, the two men who are the parts of Firestorm do show up, but the hero himself doesn’t, never mind as the “Black Lantern” version. What in the world is DC thinking? Do they have such little faith in the story that they can’t be bothered to come up with a cover that matches it?

To be sure, there’s very little story here, which is pretty much what happens when you only devote a few pages to each of a dozen or so characters. Hawkman and Hawkgirl are still following their stolen bodies from past lives, and have finally ended up in some alternate dimension. Something’s still up with Firestorm. Hawk has demanded that Deadman use the white power ring to try to bring his brother (the first Dove) back to life. Corpses show up in the Bermuda Triangle, and Mera seems to still be under the spell of the red power ring.

Brightest Day has been a total snooze-fest so far.

The second issue of DC Universe: Legacies reverses the pattern of the first one: The backup story, about the Seven Soldiers of Victory, is a total throwaway, unlike the interesting take on the Spectre and Doctor Fate in the back of the first issue. But the main story here is better than in the first issue, as it follows the main character through to the early 50s and the disbanding of the Justice Society, and the downfall of his friend who decided to go the criminal route. The story overall is not terribly strong, as the inspiration of the heroes on our protagonist is strong but simplistic, and I wonder how writer Len Wein can draw out this influence for the remaining 10 issues. I also wonder how he’ll cover the 50s through the 80s in this volume, as thanks to the march of time that’s a period when most of DC’s big-name heroes weren’t active (Superman, after all, would have only started his career in the mid/late 90s). Marvel had a whole series about this “missing era” in its history (Marvel: The Lost Generation, worth seeking out), but DC has mostly glossed over it. It’ll be hard for Wein to do the same here.

The big questions, though, are: Will this be more than a recapitulation of DC universe history, and what exactly are the “legacies” going to be? Or is the title going to end up not really being relevant to the story?

My enthusiasm for Fables has flagged a bit since the first story wrapped up in issue #75, but I think a lot of that is because the two main characters of that arc (Bigby Wolf and Boy Blue) have stepped off the stage, and no one’s really come in to replace them. There are many interesting plot elements, but the characters aren’t keeping me engaged.

Presently the series is doing a piece about Rose Red, the sister of Snow White, illuminating their childhood and how they ended up as such different people. While Rose Red is anything but a sympathetic character (she’s a schemer and a whiner, frankly), this run is otherwise one of the better stories of the last couple of years, as writer Bill Willingham gets to tell his reinterpretation of classic fairy tales, where he always takes their darker nature to heart. Here he presents Snow White’s famous tale (hinted at in the graphic novel 1001 Nights of Snowfall), and how and way it came to pass. And it’ll clearly be a big part of why Rose Red turned out the way she did. Fun stuff.

I do hope that the story gets back to the larger arc of the Dark Man who destroyed Fabletown, and presents some more heroic figures we can get behind in the fight against him, though.

This Week’s Haul

The longest-running story in Astro City came to its end after 16 issues and almost half a decade of sporadic publishing. I’m going to write a separate entry on The Dark Age since it’s a pretty meaty story, but that’s been obscured by its slow release schedule.

Meanwhile, fans of cartoonist Charles Addams might want to check out the recent publication The Addams Family: An Evilution, which covers Addams’ development of the family in his comic panels years before they appeared on television (never mind the silver screen), but which mostly consists of scores of cartoons of the family, including many which have never appeared before. If you’re a big Addams fan like I am (and if you’re not, then you should be!), then this is a fine addition to any cartoon library.

  • Astro City: The Dark Age book four #4 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Batman and Robin #12, by Grant Morrison, Andy Clarke, Dustin Nguyen & Scott Hanna (DC)
  • Brightest Day #1, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Pat Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado, Vicente Cifuentes, Mark Irwin, Oclair Albert & David Beaty (DC)
  • Secret Six #21, by Gail Simone & John Calafiore (DC)
  • Echo #21, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Incorruptible #5, by Mark Waid & Horacio Domingues (Boom)
  • Irredeemable #13, by Mark Waid & Diego Barreto (Boom)
  • Hellboy in Mexico, by Mike Mignola & Richard Corben (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #42, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Dreadstar: The Beginning HC, by Jim Starlin (Dynamite)
  • Ghost Projekt #2 of 5, by Joe Harris & Steve Rolston (Oni)
The first issue of Brightest Day is an improvement on the zeroth issue, but not by a lot: Giving each of the characters (and there are a lot of them) just a few pages to advance their individual stories doesn’t make for very interesting reading. Green Lantern and some of the other rainbow lanterns investigate the mysterious white lantern that’s appeared, and no-longer-Deadman continues to monitor the other resurrected heroes.

The two action sequences are the best ones in the book: Aquaman commanding dead sea life, and Hawkman and Hawkgirl trying to recover their unearthed original bodies (although the fact that Hath-Set is the one who recovered them has an air of, “What, this again?” to it). But otherwise this is the first chapter of not one but about 6 different stories, and none of them are very compelling.

It’s really hard to tell an ongoing story with an ensemble cast like this, and that 52 did it well was probably a fluke. Brightest Day is not off to a good start in either its plot or its characterizations. It’s got about 2 more issues before I decide it’s not worth it, because after getting burned by Countdown to Final Crisis, these sorts of books are on a short leash with me.

Both Incorruptible and Irredeemable have guest artists this month, coincidentally. (Or, maybe it’s not a coincidence.) Irredeemable fares better, as Diego Barreto’s art is pretty good (though it’s still a step down since Peter Krause has done such a strong job of establishing the look and feel of the series that his are just huge shoes to fill). Besides which, this issue largely flashes back to the days when the Plutonian went bad, which feels like ground already covered (even though it’s been covered haltingly and piecemeal); Mark Waid’s done such a good job suggesting what happened that actually showing it doesn’t really feel necessary, and this issue doesn’t really advance the story very much.

(That cover, by the way, looks like it could have been from an issue of Miracleman. Which actually makes me realize that the Plutonian started off as a Superman-like figure, but his darker, cape-less costume resembles that of Miracleman. Intentional?)

Incorruptible doesn’t fare any better, as Horacio Domingues’ cartoony style and heavy ink lines felt like they clashed with the heavy subject matter. The story is okay, involving Max Damage recruiting a young woman to stand in for his missing sidekick, Jailbait, to prevent his enemies from learning she’s left him. The notion of the main character needing to be near his sidekick to keep her safe is an interesting twist on the premise (I’m not really clear on what Jailbait’s powers are, if any), but the issue ends up being a series of dark humor moments as the reluctant stand-in is overwhelmed with the realities of Max’s life. It seems almost like a gag-a-day approach to writing a very dark story, and it felt awkward.

These are both very good series, but they both had an off-month.

This week’s “true comics geek” issuing is Dreadstar: The Beginning. This is essentially the prologue to Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar comic, most of it originally printed as a series entitled “Metamorphosis Odyssey” in Marvel Comics’ Epic Illustrated magazine back in the early 1980s.

Epic Illustrated was essentially aimed as a competitor to the artsy European mag Heavy Metal, and the content often felt similar. “Metamorphosis Odyssey” certainly fits right in: First of all, the art is painted rather than drawn, and about half the story is in black-and-white, with no apparent point to which pages are in color and which aren’t. (The collection faithfully reproduces this, which seems even quirkier in this format.) Second, the story is often told in the distance, circling around its characters and not letting us see them act in the moment very much until the second half. It’s a very self-conscious story, but one which is also trying to feel very spiritual. While Starlin has often written stories with a spiritual component, he’s never been very good at selling that aspect, and it feels awkward here.

Fundamentally, the story is one of loss, as the war-loving Zygotean race terrorize the Milky Way galaxy, and the last of the Osirisians, Aknaton, recruits three unusual individuals to trigger the Infinity Horn to end the Zygotean threat, but at great cost. He also recruits Vanth Dreadstar, a warrior wielding a powerful energy sword, to help him defend the three until they can do their jobs. It’s a simple story elaborately told, and it’s clear that Starlin quickly found himself won over by the battle-weary yet strong-willed Vanth, which is why Dreadstar ended up being the one to go on to his own series.

The volume includes two other prologue stories, he first being “The Price”, in which the bishop Syzygy Darklock receives tremendous power on his way to becoming Dreadstar’s greatest ally, but must pay an equally tremendous price to acquire it. The second is an epilogue which sets up the ongoing Dreadstar series, and introduces the telepath Willow, and feels like a side story other than that introduction.

As you can guess from my tone, I don’t think Dreadstar: The Beginning is a very impressive volume, even though it’s the lead-in to the best work of Starlin’s career. Starlin isn’t a very accomplished painter, and his brushwork seems to accentuate the flaws in his art style, making some of the quirky compositions and beefy figures look even more exaggerated; his style is much better suited for dynamic action sequences than for the more contemplative material here. And “Metamorphosis Odyssey” itself feels very experimental, but I don’t think it really succeeds in being a deep or satisfying story. Although I don’t think it was intended to be, it feels like backstory to the real tale. “The Price” is a genuinely strong story, one of the best Starlin’s done, but it’s hard to recommend the whole hardcover on its back.

While committed fans of Starlin or people curious about where Dreadstar got started might enjoy this volume, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, and in fact would suggest that people who haven’t already read Dreadstar start with collections of the regular series, as The Beginning is really not going to give you a good feel for what the hoopla was about.

This Week’s Haul

A big week this week, and it turns out this month, not last month, is Dan Jurgens’ last hurrah on Booster Gold.

  • Booster Gold #32, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Brightest Day #0, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin & many inkers (DC)
  • Fables #94, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Flash #1, by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul (DC)
  • The Unwritten #12, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Secret Six #20, by Gail Simone & Jim Calafiore (DC)
  • Powers #4, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • Irredeemable Special #1, by Mark Waid, Paul Azaceta, Emma Rios & Howard Chaykin (Boom)
  • B.P.R.D.: King of Fear #4 of 5, by ike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor #1 of 5, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • Chew #10, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
  • Atomic Robo and the Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #2 of 5, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
Chris Sims rips Brightest Day #0 a new one in his review column this week. I think he’s a little harsh, but only a little; this is not a good comic book.

The conclusion of Blackest Night showcased the return from death of a dozen DC heroes and villains, including Deadman who, well, is supposed to be dead. Brightest Day is supposedly going to explore why they came back to life. I think the hope is that they’ll capture some of the fun of 52, the weekly series from a few years ago, which was hands-down DC’s best weekly series so far. This issue is the lead-in to that, and it’s basically just Deadman – thanks to the white ring on his finger – checking in on each of the other characters who came back to life. Which means it’s one little character piece after another – bits which might work well enough as an aside in a character’s regular series, but which strung together like this make for one pretty tedious issue.

Worse, this is a continuity-laden comic featuring characters with convoluted backstories. Okay, Hawkman at this point is firmly grounded in his convoluted backstory, it’s basically a key part of the character, and honestly that’s not such a bad thing, since the core premise is easy to explain (Hawkman and his beloved Hawkgirl have been getting reincarnated for thousands of years) and the details are unimportant. Sims points out the problem with all this continuity without really trying to do so:

Take Firestorm. Johns and Tomasi make it clear that Ronnie Raymond is meant to be back from the dead from the moment he died in Identity Crisis. So why does he act like he did thirty years ago? Why did he ask where Professor Stein is, when Stein hadn’t been part of Firestorm for years at that point? Why does Ronnie, a recovering alcoholic, blow off Gehenna’s funeral to go to a kegger? And why, if the union between Jason and Ronnie is meant to be the new version of Firestorm, as seen on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, does Ronnie get control of the body? Well, I know the answer to that one: Because if Firestorm still had the body of a black man, he wouldn’t look like he did in 1978.

Firestorm died in Identity Crisis? I read that piece of trash, but I’d forgotten that. Ronnie’s a recovering alcoholic? Firestorm’s tying in somehow to the Brave and the Bold cartoon? Yeesh, this is all the sort of BS that needs to get sliced away and discarded (or else I’ll be trying to figure out why Firestorm isn’t still a fire elemental, like John Ostrander revealed him to be), the sort of thing Geoff Johns did well in Green Lantern, picking the pieces he wanted to play with and ignoring the rest. You can repeat this for most of the other characters herein, and then there are some new bits that make no sense at all (Aquaman being reluctant to go into the water, for example).

There’s some potential here, but the cast is too large, and this is really a horrible lead-in to the series. My guess it that it will be better than Countdown to Final Crisis (it could hardly be worse), but not anywhere near as good as 52 was.

On the art side, Fernando Pasarin’s art is pretty solid, though unspectacular. This seems to be DC’s house style these days: Clean, solidly-rendered, judicious use of shadows, lots of details, somewhat generic faces and expressions. More than a little evocative of George Pérez and Dan Jurgens, without being as distinctive as either. (Nicola Scott and Ivan Reis are similar.)

I might try the first couple of issues, but Brightest Day will have to come out of the gate strong (assuming that this issue is it just getting into the gate) for me to keep reading.

On the other hand, I think Sims is far too kind to the new Flash series. He is right about this: Bringing back Barry Allen was completely unnecessary, especially as Wally West has been such a great Flash for the last quarter of a century (wow, has it really been that long?). Then again, bringing back Hal Jordan as Green Lantern was not exactly essential either, and that’s worked out well. The difference is that Barry’s death occurred at the lowest point in the character’s creative history, and he died heroically in a much-beloved series (Crisis on Infinite Earths), whereas Hal was killed off awkwardly after becoming a villain for no good reason, so bringing Barry back actually cheapens his death (and his return hasn’t been handled with anywhere near the style of the other resurrected hero whose return has previously been verboten – Ed Brubaker bringing back Bucky in Captain America was orders of magnitude better than this, as I said last week).

But, Barry’s back, and he’s been given a new series, and that’s how it goes.

In any event, this issue is no better than Brightest Day above. To start with, this story is just bogged down in continuity, explicit or implied: The Flash has been dead, and presumably everyone knows that, but now he’s back. And so is Barry Allen, but it’s unclear whether everyone knows that the two are the same guy, and you’d pretty much have to be an idiot not to have figured it out, if you knew Barry personally. Johns blurred the line in Green Lantern about whether everyone knew who Hal was – you could almost believe that everyone did know, and just didn’t care – but here it seems like all of Barry’s friends are idiots. (Never mind that his wife Iris had disappeared for years, too, and came back, and then apparently got 20 years younger. Good trick, that.) Johns wants to push past all the getting-back-to-his-life stuff and get to the story, but I just don’t buy it, especially since Barry and Iris were the stereotypical midwest, middle-American couple, living in a cute little ranch home and working their day jobs, and that life is so far from where the characters are starting now, it’s impossible to credit.

The plot involves one of Flash’s villains (of his so-called Rogues Gallery) showing up dead – only it doesn’t seem to be him. It’s just the barest hint of the story, so there’s not much to review there (though there’s atwist on the last two pages), but most of the issue is given over to Barry getting back to his life. And that’s a yawn-fest.

The big knock against the issue is the art: Francis Manapul was just good enough on Jim Shooter’s recently Legion of Super-Heroes run with his uninspiring “Image-esque” style helped by some clean linework, but his style here is a lot more cartoony and sketchy, and I think it just looks awful. The characters all look kind of childlike, with indistinguishable faces (which look deformed whenever the panel is composed looking up at the face), the inks look more like pencils, there are unnecessary speed lines everywhere (yes, even for The Flash they’re unnecessary), and on top of that the colors look washed out. I almost passed on this series because of Manapul’s presence alone, and this first issue makes me think I should’ve gone with my first instinct. (I’m not really sure who I think they should have gotten to draw the series. Ethan Van Scyver was not a great choice in The Flash: Rebirth, even though I like his art a lot better. Dan Jurgens doesn’t have the right dynamism. But the series needs to look more grown-up and solid than the look Manapul gives it here. Norm Breyfogle might have brought the series a similar look but more weight – he did a good job on the criminally-overlooked miniseries Flashpoint ten years ago.)

Flash after one issue has all the indications of being a train wreck. To be sure, Green Lantern got off to a very slow start, but at least it had lovely artwork to fall back on. Flash needs to get much better on all fronts very quickly for me to care enough to stick around.

Is John Byrne doing the best Star Trek comics of the last 20 years, or the best Star Trek comics ever? It sure is hard to tell. Other than the quirky and unsatisfying Assignment: Earth series, every Byrne Trek comic at IDW has been pitch-perfect, wonderfully illustrated stuff exploring the fringes of the original cast milieu. Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor follows the irascible surgeon as he embarks on a voyage to the Federation frontier to help people with his skills, in the period between classic Trek and the first feature film, so it’s a medium for Byrne to spin a few clever science fiction yarns. Less ambitious than his Romulans series, but that’s hardly a problem as Crew had a similar approach, and I think that’s the best of his series yet.

If I have a criticism it’s that his rendering of the good doctor seem slightly off to me. Granted, McCoy’s got a full beard here (as he did when he first appeared in The Motion Picture), but something about his eyes and his mouth make him appear a little older and grumpier than even he ought to. Still, the issue as a whole is fun stuff, and I’m looking forward to the rest.

(I wonder if Byrne has aspirations of doing a truly epic Trek series at IDW at some point, something on a grander scale than even the Romulans story? That’s be something to see.)

This month’s issue of Atomic Robo and the Revenge of the Vampire Dimension doesn’t feature any vampires, nor any dimensions (well, other than the usual three). It does feature Atomic Robo and also revenge, although the revenge isn’t by vampires. False advertising?

Anyway, this one takes place in Japan and is yet another homage to Japanese monster movies, which means (this being Atomic Robo) it involves a lot of smashing, interspersed with snarky remarks by Robo. It’s a pretty good issue, actually, but sameness is starting to set in to Atomic Robo I’ve been hoping that writer Brian Clevinger would start pulling together Robo’s long backstory (he was created by Nikola Tesla) into a larger drama, but it’s basically one slugfest after another. The previous volume, Shadow From Beyond Time, was the best one yet precisely because it was a carefully-laid-out story arc, but Revenge of the Vampire Dimension reverts to the one-offs of the previous two volumes.

This could be such a great series, and it’s really frustrating that it can’t rise above the level of lightweight adventure stuff.