This Week’s Haul

A little late this week:

  • Action Comics #866, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC)
  • Booster Gold #10, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Salvation Run #7 of 7, by Matt Stuirges, Sean Chen, Walden Wong & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • ClanDestine #5 of 5, by Alan Davis & Mark Farmer (Marvel)
  • newuniversal: shockfront #2 of 6, by Warren Ellis, Steve Kuth & Andrew Hennessey (Marvel)
  • The Twelve #6 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Weston & Garry Leach (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #1, by John Arcudi, Herb Trimpe & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Locke & Key #5 of 6, by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
  • Invincible #50, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Action Comics #866 Geoff Johns’ next major story in Action Comics is “Brainiac” – but which one? Honestly I gave up reading Superman in the early 90s before they had really figured out who the post-Crisis Brainiac was. But it seems like Johns’ goal with his run on this book is to redefine some elements of the Superman mythos. So it looks like Brainiac is back to being an alien who captured the Kryptonian city of Kandor years ago. He appears to be a green alien who operates out of a skull-shaped metal ship. But he also appears to have tangled with Superman before, and operates through robot proxies.

My bet? That the alien in the ship isn’t really Brainiac – he’s probably been captured by the ship itself. Who has Superman fought before? Beats me. Maybe offshoots or other instances of the ship – if it’s a machine who says there has to be only one?

The issue has a fun interlude in which the Daily Planet staff has a meeting. Some of it feels a little forced (okay, mostly I haven’t really liked any portrayals of Steve Lombard since Julie Schwartz retired), but has some funny moments, especially the interplay between Lois and Clark afterwards. (I’m also really glad Lois is back to having black hair; I thought it was ridiculous when John Byrne turned her hair brown.) Superhero comics spend so much time on the action and so little on the characters these days, especially the ones who have secret identities.

As usual, Gary Frank’s art is nifty, although also as usual the backgrounds feel rather sparse. I enjoyed his renditions of the Brainiac robots the most, he’s taken the old Gil Kane designs to a new level.

Salvation Run #7 Salvation Run ends – not really a surprise – with a whimper and not a bang. Several fourth-string super-villains bite the dust, Luthor gets his mad on, and the status quo is restored, except for one character who’s left hanging at the end. It doesn’t mesh very well with Final Crisis, but it also slipped until it shipped after the first issue of that series. Grant Morrison pretty much says that he didn’t factor Countdown or its spin-offs into Final Crisis, which mostly makes DC editorial look like a bunch of chumps, although it’s difficult to shed any tears over Countdown, which as I’ve said was pretty much a complete disaster of a series. It makes the end of Salvation Run seem even more superfluous.

I’ve been an admirer of Sean Chen’s artwork in the past, but his work on this series was pretty mediocre: Not much detail, and I don’t think his renditions of Luthor and the Joker are very true. I don’t know if he was rushed, of if his inkers were just not good matches for him, but it was pretty disappointing. Especially since he left Nova to do this series. Sadly, with the art factored in, this series ended up being pretty much a waste of time.

ClanDestine vol 2 #5 This ClanDestine mini-series felt like a straightforward continuation of the old series, which is awkward since it’s been over a decade since the first series came out, and it didn’t last very long, so I imagine there weren’t many people scrambling on board to read it. And I guess it didn’t do very well in the sales department. Moreover, it brought back the old Alan Davis X-Men team Excalibur and otherwise rehashed a villain from the first series, and also the background of Adam Destine, complete with the requisite deus-ex-machina (since Adam is pretty much a walking deus-ex-machina).

All of which made this series something of a “shrug”, albeit an extremely well-drawn “shrug”. It ends with a teaser for a third series which I’d be much more interested in reading, but I bet the sales won’t cause Marvel to rush out to publish it. Alas, I think the time for ClanDestine passed some time ago.

The Twelve #6 The Twelve is shaping up to be one of J. Michael Straczynski’s best comics works, behind Midnight Nation. This is not strong praise on its own, since you may have noticed that I’ve been lukewarm-at-best towards all the other Straczynski comics I’ve read, but in this case I’m actually enjoying the book quite a bit. It helps that the art team of Weston and Leach have given the book a visual look unlike most other mainstream comics, with details and character designs few other artists at the big two can match.

The first six issues of the series have mostly been character spotlights, showing what makes each member of the Twelve tick, and how they react to being thrown from the end days of World War II to the 21st century. Not all of the characters are interesting – Mister E, for instance, is pretty much a nonentity – but some of them are quite good, and Straczynski has thrown in a few enjoyable twists, especially regarding Dynamic Man and – in this issue – Rockman. I was also satisfied with the explanation for my concern about Electro, which I expressed in my review of issue #1.

I think these first six issues have set the tone for the series and put all the pieces in place, and now I expect the second six will bring things together into a unified story, presumably as one or more of the characters either end up being a threat, or being not what they seem to be. Or maybe in some other way. Regardless, pulling everyone into a single story and not leaving them with twelve separate threads will be the difference between the success or the failure of this series, I think. Although admittedly Straczynski could surprise us all and do something unexpected yet still fascinating. His track record in comics writing doesn’t suggest that that’s likely, however.

Really, The Twelve is the latest series to follow the Watchmen approach to super-team storytelling: Take us through the backgrounds and circumstances of a group of individual characters, and then bring them together at the end. James Robinson’s The Golden Age worked in a similar manner. Even after 20 years, it’s still not a very common approach to superhero comics, so it still feels relatively fresh whenever it pops up. That’s probably a big part of why I’m enjoying The Twelve.

Invincible #50 Invincible really might be the best superhero comic being published – as it pretty much claims on the cover – even on the erratic schedule it’s been on recently. It reaches #50 this month, marking another turning point in a series which has had plenty of them, as Invincible cuts ties with his government boss in a rather bloody manner.

Invincible is great for so many reason: The main character is a through-and-through hero, which is refreshing these days, even if he does have his flaws and foibles. He means well, and he usually does well, and people respect him for that. The supporting cast vary widely, and few of them are out-and-out villains, usually with personal motivations which make them sometimes do good, and sometimes behave suspiciously. Alliances shift, and characters change and develop. And that’s the best thing: Even though it’s an ongoing, open-ended story, there’s a definite sense of change and progress unlike almost any other superhero book out there. You never know what’s going to happen next, but when it does it’s usually both exciting and it makes sense.

Artist Ryan Ottley keeps up with Kirkman’s script wonderfully, with dramatic action sequences, different-looking characters, and a colorful world. In some ways his art reminds me of Michael Avon Oeming (of Powers), but I think Ottley balances the realistic and the cartoony much better.

50 issues under their belt, and Kirkman still has plenty of irons in the fire for this character. Here’s hoping the next 50 are just as much fun.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 6 February 2008.

  • Countdown to Final Crisis #12 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Keith Giffen, Jesus Saiz & Tom Derenick (DC)
  • Fables #69, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice Society of America #12, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham & Ruy José (DC)
  • Metal Men #6 of 8, by Duncan Rouleau (DC)
  • Annihilation Conquest #4 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Tom Raney & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Clandestine #1 of 5, by Alan Davis & Mark Farmer (Marvel)
  • The Twelve #2 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Weston & Garry Leach (Marvel)
  • The Boys #15, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Dynamo 5: Post-Nuclear Family vol 1 TPB, by Jay Faerber & Mahmud A. Asrar (Image)
Fables #69 This month’s Fables concludes the latest lengthy story in the series, “The Good Prince”. In it, Flycatcher, the erstwhile janitor of Fabletown in New York (and for that matter the frog prince), dons some magical armor and, guided by Sir Launcelot, helps guide a group of Fables out of the lands of the dead, and sets up the kingdom of Haven and invites refugees from the Empire to find shelter with him. At the end of last issue, the Emperor sent a huge army of his forces to destroy Haven, and the prince goes out to meet them, expecting to defeat them to save his kingdom, but die in the process.

“The Good Prince” isn’t the best story in the series, but I genuinely enjoyed watching Flycatcher’s turnaround from guilt-ridden janitor to earnest leader (who reminds me a little of the Lama from Doctor Strange #66, but that’s neither here nor there). Writer Bill Willingham continues to artfully shift the status quo of the series, and the balance of power between Fabletown and the Empire. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that Fables is the best comic being published todayl, but it’s in my top ten.

By the way, the book’s secret – well, really unheralded – weapon is penciller Mark Buckingham, who’s quietly become one of the most inventive and versatile artists working on a major comic: He can handle a wide range of emotions and faces, as well as all the fantastic elements Willingham can throw at him, while having fundamentally good storytelling skills and some smooth, skillful linework. Good stuff.

Clandestine vol 2 #1 Alan Davis’ Clandestine first came out in the mid-90s. At first it was about a family of colorful characters – not quite superheroes – and the mystery regarding who they were and how they came to be. It wasn’t a huge mystery: The Destine family (the “clan Destine”, geddit?) are all children of Adam Destine, an immortal, indestructible man born centuries ago, and whose children are similarly long-lived and each have their own amazing powers. The series was a lot of fun, but didn’t last long, only 12 issues plus a crossover with the X-Men. (The whole thing will soon be reprinted in hardcover, and has previously been issued in paperback.)

Ten years later, Davis’ family is back in a new 5-issue limited series. This first issue is a pretty good summary of the family, their background and powers, and their various problems and conflicts. In particular, some of them have a strong sense of family ties, while others do not, but they all feel bound together in various ways. Adam is not much of a patriarch, being so long-lived that he feels and acts a little inhuman, and the family often views him with suspicion since he once killed one of his children, even though the child was apparently a huge threat.

Like the first series, this one looks like it’s going to involve the family going up against another secret organization which has their sights set on them. So I do worry that it’s going to be a bit repetitious. But Davis’ art is always terrific – dynamic and colorful – so I expect it will be entertaining in any event. I do recommend checking out the first series and then trying this one if you like it.

Dynamo 5 TPB vol 1: Post-Nuclear Family I’d been reading good things about Dynamo 5, Jay Faerber’s latest project. But I hadn’t been moved to buy the monthly comic because I’d been reading his other comic, Noble Causes, since the beginning, and a few mini-series and the first 12 or so issues of the monthly in, I’d realized that it was a comic about a bunch of thoroughly unlikeable characters, with haphazard and often-nonsensical story developments, and artwork of extremely varying quality. So I’d bailed on it. But Dynamo 5 had been getting such good reviews, that I decided to give the first paperback collection a try this week.

It’s way better than Noble Causes.

The premise is that a major superhero, Captain Dynamo, had died a few years ago, and his widow, Maddie Warner, learned that he’d been sleeping around a lot over the last few decades. Worried about the welfare of the city he’d protected, she tracked down five children his liaisons had produced and activated their latent powers. It turns out that each of them had one of the Captain’s powers: Strength, flight, vision powers, telepathy, and shapeshifting.

This collection contains the first 7 issues. The first issue gives us the set-up, and ends with Maddie revealing a secret to the readers (although not to her proteges). The remaining issues are a loosely-related set of stories in which the heroes adjust to one another and to their new roles. But Faerber does a great job of setting up conflicts and tensions among the characters, most of whom are in their late teens or early 20s, and from very different backgrounds. Artist Mahmud Asrar is a good find, handling the superhero scenes quite well, and doing well enough at the civilian/talking heads scenes (although he’s not quite as comfortable with those, it seems). The collection ends with a big two-part story, and a surprise on the last page.

Faerber seems much more adept at pacing Dynamo 5 than Noble Causes, and I’m not sure why that is. Noble Causes did have a big challenge built into it, since so many of the characters were such scumbags, and maybe getting the reader to identify with them was just more than he was able to accomplish. (Well, getting this reader to identify with them; NC‘s regular series is still running so obviously some people enjoy it.) The characters here are likable even though they’re flawed, and the high concept feels easier to plug in to. The book has a bit of the feel of Robert Kirkman’s Invincible to it, although it’s not so iconoclastic.

So I’m definitely interested in coming back for the second volume. I’m not sure I’ll latch onto the monthly series, though.