This Week’s Haul

  • Countdown to Final Crisis #1 of 51 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Keith Giffen, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • The Death of the New Gods #8 of 8, by Jim Starlin & Art Thibert (DC)
  • Fables #72, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Hulk #3, by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines (Marvel)
  • Thor #8, by J. Michael Straczynski, Marko Djurdjevic & Danny Mika (Marvel)
Countdown to Final Crisis #1 Finally, mercifully, Countdown comes to an end. Even worse, apparently it was originally slated to run for 52 issues, but they decided to end it with #1 rather than #0, so it only ran 51. Small loss. (I guess #0 is being replaced with next week’s DC Universe #0.)

I had thought of running through the storylines from Countdown to examine how pointless and unsatisfying they were, but Brian Hibbs has already done just that over at Savage Critics. He also discusses from a retailer’s standpoint what a mess Countdown has been for DC, and what a shambles DC’s editorial direction seems to be in after these last few years, starting with the repulsive Identity Crisis, through the pointless Infinite Crisis, the fun 52, the even-more-pointless One Year Later, now Countdown, and soon Final Crisis. (Final crisis? Yeah, right.) It’s been crossover-mania, and crossovers have always been a questionable effort at best; for the most part, these projects have done nothing but undermine the enjoyability of the characters while hanging these changes on exceedingly thin stories. The emperor not only has no clothes, he’s started to flay himself.

Anyway. Countdown didn’t even have much of a story. What little there was mostly played out in The Death of the New Gods (see below), and everything else here was completely superfluous. I wonder what the original idea behind this series was? I haven’t been impressed with Paul Dini’s comics writing, but surely his original pitch actually had some sort of point, rather than just trailing off into nothingness like this.

DC’s next weekly series will be Trinity, focusing on Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. I have fairly little interest in any of these characters; Superman is occasionally fun, but neither Batman nor Wonder Woman does much for me, especially these days when Batman is relentlessly grim and Wonder Woman is a cipher. So I’m going to skip it, even if Kurt Busiek is writing it.

The Death of the New Gods #8 For some reason, this issue takes place before Countdown #2, but was apparently intentionally published a week later. Huh?

Anyway, I probably should have guessed that this series would be little more than a side matter to Countdown, and although Jim Starlin does his best to make something worthwhile out of it – mostly by playing up the tragic figure of Mister Miracle – in the end it comes down to another stupid fight with Darkseid, who at this point might be DC’s most boring villain. A while back I speculated that this would end up being a Superman story, bearing witness to the end of the New Gods, but Superman stood on the margins in this issue and really didn’t serve much purpose.

So what’s the point? In order to get any of this to pay off, DC really has to do something major and earth-shaking, the sort of total reworking of their line which was promised back in Crisis on Infinite Earths but which never came to pass. But I think DC doesn’t have enough of a vision to pull off such a thing, to actually wrap up all of its current titles are start afresh. And it’s hard to see how doing otherwise would make this worth it.

If there’s one thing more frustrating than a status quo which never changes, it’s dangling the promise of some real change without ever following through. And that’s where I think DC is now. And so the loss of the New Gods will likely be both pointless and ephemeral; everything will likely be back to normal in a few years.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 2 April 2008.

  • Action Comics #863, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #4 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Keith Giffen, Jamal Ingle & Keith Champagne (DC)
  • Metal Men #7 of 8, by Duncan Rouleau (DC)
  • Clandestine #3 of 5, by Alan Davis & Mark Farmer (Marvel)
  • The Twelve #4 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Weston & Garry Leach (Marvel)
  • The Boys #17, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Project Superpowers #2 of 6, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Carlos Paul (Dynamite)
Action Comics #863 Action Comics this week wraps up “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes”. It’s been a strange nostalgia trip for us 70s Legion fans, starting with “The Lightning Saga” and now this one.

To summarize, as a boy Superman was recruited by the Legion – a group of teenaged heroes who live in the 30th century – to become a member, and to give him a sense of belonging to a group of his peers. However, this isn’t the Legion of his 30th century, since that’s presumably the group currently being published in Legion of Super-Heroes. Rather, this is the Legion whose adventures were published in the 1950s through the late 80s. Only in this world Karate Kid never died (instead he gets to die in Countdown to Final Crisis, but that’s another matter), and the Magic Wars never brought the 30th century to its knees, and thus the Five Years Later stories never happened. Rather, Superman grew up and stopped going to the 30th century. And the Legion grew up, too, without him.

In “The Lightning Saga” a few Legionnaires came back to the 20th century to bring the Flash back to his time. Karate Kid and Starman stayed behind. And then Brainiac 5 contacts Superman and brings him into the future to help overthrow the future Justice League, a group of former Legion rejects led by Earth-Man, who can absorb the powers of other heroes. The rejects have convinced Earth that Superman was a human like them who fought for human rights and that they should kick all the aliens off of Earth – a bummer for the Legion since they’re mostly aliens. When Superman arrives he finds that the sun has been turned red, so he loses his powers, and that other planets are preparing to stage an all-out war against the xenophobic Earth.

All of this is pretty silly, and it gets sillier in this issue, which features such elements as a complete disregard for the speed of light, and Superman gaining and losing his powers instantly depending on the sun’s color (I thought Superman acted more like a solar battery rather than the sun acting like a magic on/off switch like it did in the 1950s, but admittedly I don’t follow too closely). From a structural standpoint, it’s never clear why Superman needed to be involved in this story at all, as he has only a marginal effect on the outcome (besides throwing the final punch). Thematically he witnesses what happens when his name is used to evil purposes, but a thousand years down the line there’s not a whole lot he can do about that.

I sound like a sourpuss, but despite the continuity confusion and story silliness, I actually enjoyed the story and it was consistently near the top of my reading stack each month. Johns may have written a very loose story, but I was genuinely interested in what the heck was going on, and it features plenty of rah-rah heroism to make it actually feel good. Plus as a fan of the Legion from the 1970s, I enjoyed seeing “my” Legion back again; their backstory may not make any sense, but by-and-large they acted like the Legion I loved, and in a way that’s more important. So as self-indulgent, ultimately-meaningless stories go, it was a fun read.

I’m conflicted about penciller Gary Frank’s art. His style has evolved over the last 10 years from a clean-lined cartoonist to a strict realist, rendering his figures in careful detail. However, he’s another artist who rarely draws backgrounds, which means his panels are often missing a sense of place. The cover of this issue (at left) is a good overview of his style in all these regards, actually. Still, he does have a strong feel for facial expressions and draws some nice action scenes which keeps the story moving along. (He also draws a terrific Dawnstar.) Overall it’s a net win, although I think if he fleshed out his panels a bit more then he could move up into Dave Gibbons territory as an artist.

I guess this Legion will next pop up later this year in something called Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, which might explain why there are all these Legions running around. Or not. Still it’ll be drawn by George Pérez, and that’s enough to get me to check it out. (There’s an interview with Geoff Johns about it here.)

Countdown to Final Crisis #4 As I feared after last week, Countdown to Final Crisis undoes all of the ballsy moves they put in place in the last few weeks by revealing that it all happened on an alternate Earth. So Karate Kid and Una die for nothing (not that their presence in the book ever made the least sense at all), we we’re not back to the silly Dark Mary Marvel stuff, which also makes no sense.

Who thought all this was a good idea?

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 26 March 2008.

It’s a small, all-DC week!

  • All-Star Superman #10, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #5 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, Jim Starlin & Rodney Ramos (DC)
  • Countdown to Adventure #8 of 8, by Adam Beechen, Allan Goldman & Julio Ferreira, and Justin Gray, Fabrizio Fiorentino & Adam Dekraker (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #40, by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul & Livesay (DC)
Countdown to Final Crisis #5 I’ve been trying to resist commenting on Countdown to Final Crisis until it wraps up, but I can’t resist this one: The Great Disaster arrives (a concept from Kirby’s Fourth World series from the 70s, which as I’ve said before I think are silly and forgettable at best), and it’s because a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes came back from the 31st century, decided to stay, and happened to be carrying an advanced virus (“morticoccus”) which causes humans and animals (and Kryptonians, it seems) to mutate into murderous monsters.


There are still four issues to go, plus the inevitable Final Crisis series coming up, but this whole series makes basically no sense to me. Not only have many of the plot threads been seemingly-irrelevant to the main story, but the time travel element introduces logical difficulties which the story has made no effort to explain.

While there’s a certain fascination to watching the fall of the “real” DC Universe, and the audacity that it’s being handled in such a straightforward fashion – when the series involves time travel and parallel universes, it seems all too easy for them to write this one off in a few glib panels. While I suppose it’s remotely possible that this drek could be woven into a sensical story in the last 4 issues, it sure seems unlikely.

Countdown to Adventure #8 The best of the various Countdown-related comics has easily been Countdown to Adventure. Of course, it’s not the Countdown-related elements that I enjoyed; rather, it’s the unrelated material which is entertaining.

The Forerunner half of CtA has been completely pointless. She was a pointless character to start with, and is only more so here: A supremely-skilled combat expert and the last survivor of her race, she finds reason for being at the end of this tale, but since she’s pretty much a total cipher as far as her personality goes, that basically renders the whole thing, well, did I say pointless?

The headlining story is by far the reason to check out this series: The “mystery in space” characters from 52 – Adam Strange, Animal Man and Starfire – deal with an infection brought by them to both Earth and Rann which turns people into violent slaves of a religious demagogue named Lady Styx. It may sound silly, but it’s very much in the tradition of the Silver Age yarns from which Strange and Animal Man hail. All three characters undergo some decent character tests along the way: Strange is deposed as protector of Rann and replaced by a psychopathic fellow Earthman, leaving Strange wondering what his reason for living is, since he’s unable to support his family as a civilian. Animal Man’s marriage is strained after his year-long absence in space. He and Ellen are letting Starfire live with them until her powers return – if they ever do – and Ellen worries that her husband is thinking of leaving her for the statuesque alien babe. Of course, it all turns out all right in the end, but it was a fun read.

Adam Beechen does a good job guiding the story, and while Allan Goldman’s art is a little unpolished, it’s dynamic enough to work, and reminiscent of Norm Breyfogle at times.

I guess the characters will return in this summer’s Rann/Thanagar: Holy War, although unfortunately I find the Rann/Thanagar warfare to be pretty tedious by this point; not only is it an old idea (dating to the late 70s) but it’s addressed in little bits here and there without much sense of ever moving forward. I fear that the character bits which made CtA enjoyable will be completely lost in that series. Still, that’s no reflection on this series, which I’m almost sorry to see come to an end.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 28 December 2007.

This week’s entry revolves around a trio of writers, all of whom have been in the industry for more than 30 years.

  • Action Comics #860, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #9, by Mark Waid, George Pérez, Bob Wiacek & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #18 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Keith Giffen & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • Countdown to Adventure #5 of 8, by Adam Beechen, Allan Goldman & Julio Ferreira and Justin Gray, Fabrizio Fiorentino & Adam DeKraker (DC)
  • The Death of the New Gods #4 of 8, by Jim Starlin & Art Thibert (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #37, by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul & Livesay (DC)
  • Thor #5, by J. Michael Straczynski, Oliver Coipel & Mark Morales (Marvel)
  • Atom Eve #1 of 2, by Benito Cereno & Nate Bellegarde (Image)
Countdown to Final Crisis #18 Countdown to Final Crisis has maybe its best issue yet, as the whereabouts of Ray Palmer (the original Atom) are revealed, including the backstory of what he’s been up to, an explanation of why the Atom – of all people – is important to the well-being of the multiverse (hint: he’s a scientist) and even ending on a surprising cliffhanger. I guess you can read this issue in one of two ways: Either that it’s sad that it took 35 issues for something to actually get resolved, such that the reader wonders why all the fuss was necessary, or else it’s an indication of Keith Giffen‘s influence as “story consultant” telling head writer Paul Dini and the editors to get on with it already. I’m not always Giffen’s biggest fan (I don’t have much good to say about his run on Legion of Super-Heroes with Paul Levitz in the 80s, for instance), but if nothing else he has a traditional approach to storytelling: Start off with a big event and keep the story moving from there. And that’s what’s really been missing from Countdown, which started slowly and then nothing happened for half the series.

It may be too little, too late to save this series, but at least there are signs of life.

The Death of the New Gods #4 Jim Starlin is another guy who even when he’s not at the top of his game can usually be counted on to get the fundamentals of storytelling, and he’s coming through in The Death of the New Gods. I expressed my reservations about the whole New Gods thing when the series started, but it’s actually turning out to be entertaining, and I think it’s because it’s not a New Gods story, it’s a Jim Starlin story.

Starlin often likes to have a big mystery in his stories, and here it’s the big question: Who’s killing the New Gods? Metron comes face-to-face with what is presumably either a giant clue, or the answer itself, but my lack-of-caring about the New Gods means that it means nothing to me. That could be the series’ fatal flaw as far as I’m concerned, but with 4 issues left, no doubt Starlin has a lot more up his sleeve.

The other interesting development is that while the story so far has focused on Mister Miracle, Starlin is setting it up to end up as a Superman story, which makes sense if the series lives up to its title: Superman might be the only one left to witness the death of these powerful beings. Starlin doesn’t often play around with structure in his stories, so I’m curious to see where he takes this angle.

Legion of Super-Heroes vol 5 #37 After 30 years, Jim Shooter returns to write Legion of Super-Heroes. His last issue was Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #224 back in 1977, since when he done little things like be Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics during the 1980s. The word on the street is that there was tremendous opposition to Shooter getting this writing gig – he’s reportedly made a lot of enemies in the comics biz – but as a fan I say “Good for him!”

Greg Burgas has a pretty good review of the issue as a reader who (unlike me) isn’t much of a Legion fan: Shooter introduces the characters along with some of their personalities, and starts setting up a large storyline about aliens invading the solar system, only no one knows who they are, and the Legion is both in disarray thanks to having an unexperienced leader (Lightning Lad, who’s filling the shoes of Cosmic Boy and Supergirl, both of whom have left the team) and a strained relationship with the United Planets. Joe McCulloch makes some good points too regarding the awkward dialogue in the story, with the supposedly-teenaged characters coming across as if they ought to seem “hip” or “futuristic”, but instead just seem silly.

I say “supposedly-teenaged” because there’s always been a bit of nudge-nudge-wink-wink-wink about teenaged superheroes, especially the Legion and the X-Men, who always seem smarter, wiser and more responsible than the vast majority of people their age. Very few writers ever make even a passing attempt to either explain this peculiarity or run with it as a story point. Anyway, I bring all this up because new artist Francis Manapul gives the characters some beefed-up physiques (see cover at left), making it even harder to take them seriously as anything younger than young adults.

Despite these kvetches, this is a pretty good start: There’s nothing here that can’t be seen as a writer trying to get a feel for the characters in his first issue, while setting up an ambitious story. Seeing Lightning Lad get overwhelmed so quickly, without someone right there to help him keep things under control is really my biggest beef with the story. Manapul’s pencils are pretty good, although Livesay’s inks might work better if they pulled the pencils in a more classic, rather than Image-esque, direction – someone with a heavier line to provide more depth and delineation.

As Burgas says, the issue feels like Shooter is basically throwing a whole bunch of stuff in the air and we’ll have to see where it lands. However, signalling that this is going to be an ambitious story arc is a great way to make the reader reserve judgment on the inaugural issue. I’m definitely interested in seeing what Shooter’s got planned, and I certainly hope that he’s given every opportunity to get his bearing and produce a decent run on Legion. And if the Legion is the sort of comic that interests you, then you might want to check it out.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 7 November 2007.

  • Countdown to Final Crisis #25 of 52 (backwards) by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, Ron Lim, Jimmy Palmiotti & John Stanisci (DC)
  • Metal Men #4 of 8, by Duncan Rouleau (DC)
  • Annihilation Conquest: Starlord #4 of 4, by Keith Giffen, Timothy Green II & Victor Olazaba (Marvel)
  • Annihilation: Conquest #1 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Tom Raney & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #551, by Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Hellboy: Darkness Calls #6 of 6, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Jason Armstrong (Dark Horse)
  • The Perhapanauts: Second Chances TPB vol 2, by Todd Dezago & Craig Rousseau (Dark Horse)
  • Boneyard TPB vol 6, by Richard Moore (NBM)
Countdown to Final Crisis #25 Countdown to Final Crisis this week features the pencils of Ron Lim. I remember when Lim fist turned up 20 years ago pencilling the sorta-kinda-parody comic Ex-Mutants. Since then he’s had a long career with an art style reminiscent of George Pérez and Dan Jurgens, although without either of their senses of form or attention to detail. I guess he’s been kicking around for a while drawing books I don’t read, but it’s interesting that he’s one of the guys DC’s hauling in to contribute to Countdown, since I wouldn’t call him an A-list artist. His artwork here is serviceable, but it felt like a rush job.
  Annihilation: Conquest picks up where the three mini-series (plus the Nova tie-in) ended. Quasar and Adam Warlock are obviously going to be the protagonists here, with Starlord, the Super-Skrull, Wraith and Ronan in supporting roles. I think it’ll be fun, and Tom Raney’s artwork is pretty good. The reveal of the villain at the end is a bit of a letdown – few characters have been quite as overused in a cliché manner as this one – but you can’t have everything.

Of the mini-series, the Quasar and Wraith ones were the best. Starlord was pretty good – with very good artwork – but didn’t really go anywhere. The Nova tie-in was entirely superfluous, as I mentioned a few weeks ago.

I’ve been reading the original Annihilation series as the trade paperbacks come out, and it’s much better than Conquest. But they’re certainly trying really hard in this follow-up.

Fantastic Four #551 I’m a sucker for this sort of thing: Fantastic Four is kicking off a new story titled “Epilogue”, whose first chapter is “The Beginning of the End”, in which Doctor Doom and two other characters come back from 75 years in the future to warn the FF that Reed is about to make an error which is going to have grave consequences for the future. It ends with a sudden shock and a cliffhanger. It also fortunately completely ignores the after-effects of the Civil War, thank goodness, although I suppose the story might be intended to explain some things about the Civil War. I dunno – I’m just as happy to forget all about it.

I’m not at all familiar with Dwayne McDuffie’s work, but this is a promising start, with a neat revelation about how Reed works when he’s on his own. Paul Pelletier’s pencils reminds me a little of Paul Ryan, although his approach to faces is weirdly fluid and results in some odd, unsettling effects (Sue often looks like she’s had some unfortunate plastic surgery).

It seems like the problem with the FF these days is that they’re not treated as much of a family, and that Reed always seems to be very distant and too analytical, which not only is No Fun but undercuts the theme of the series: Four adventurers against all the evil in the world. Reed still comes across as too analytical here, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Perhapanauts vol 2: Second Chances The second volume of Perhapanauts picks up where the first one left off, and it’s more of the same. There’s a nifty time travel angle in the first story, and a different (but more mundane) time travel angle in the second story, which has a bittersweet ending. There are some loose ends, which is frustrating, although not as much so in the first volume. While the book is rather fun, it feels too light for me to commit to following it when it kicks off a regular series sometime next year. I just don’t feel hooked by the characters or the scenario, a problem I also had with Noble Causes a while back, which is a book with a similar feel and which has received similar acclaim. Maybe just chalk it up to “not my cup of tea”.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 24 October 2007.

Somehow I’ve failed to post a single entry since last week’s comics reviews. I’ve gotta get it in gear!

  • Countdown #27 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Keith Giffen, Carlos Magno & Rodney Ramos (DC)
  • Fables #66, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Annihilation Conquest: Wraith #4 of 4, by Javier Grillo-Marxuach & Kyle Holz (Marvel)
  • Avengers Assemble HC vol 5 by Kurt Busiek, Alan Davis & Mark Farmer, Ivan Reis, Keiron Dwyer, Brent Anderson, Patrick Zircher, Yanick Paquette & others (Marvel)
  • Marvel Masterworks: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. vol 83 HC, collecting Strange Tales #135-153, by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, John Severin, Don Heck, Jim Steranko & others (Marvel)
  • What If? Featuring Planet Hulk #1, by Greg Pak, Leonard Kirk, Rafa Sandoval, Gary Erskine & Fred Hembeck (Marvel)
  It’s too easy to keep piling the criticism onto Countdown, but I will make the following observation: Paul Dini‘s track record as a comics writer isn’t too great. His tabloid-sized graphic novels with Alex Ross were pretty weak (Superman: Peace on Earth was probably the best), and apparently his other current series, Madame Mirage isn’t too great either – The Invincible Super-Blog makes this point concisely. Does this make Dini’s best comic work Jingle Belle? Erk.
Avengers Assemble vol 5 HC Avengers Assemble volume 5 finishes off Kurt Busiek’s run on The Avengers from a few years back. It’s surely one of the best runs the long-running series has ever seen (though I think Roy Thomas’ run in the late 60s edges it out). What made it work was that Busiek was able to work with the characters and develop them, and he also had a fundamental respect for what made the Avengers feel like they did at their best. Within this framework he told some terrific stories and had a run of excellent artists, lead of course by George Pérez, but the artists here are also quite good. Basically he successfully updated the team for 21st-century sensibilities without destroying what made it fun. Contrast with Brian Michael Bendis’ run on the title, which has been, well, destructive and depressing.

Anyway, the centerpiece of this volume is a long story in which Kang the Conquerer comes back to conquer the 21st century. While you might say “What, again?!?”, like the earlier confrontation with Ultron, Busiek takes Kang to the next level: He uses his time-travelling ability to outwit the people of Earth and set them against each other, and manages to bring the planet to its knees. There are some lovely character moments in the series, including the resolution of several long-running plot threads involving Triathlon and Goliath, complete with a fairly brutal depiction of what a world war against (effectively) an alien invader might to do the planet, somehow all without getting too depressing. It’s a classic adventure yarn, which means it’s fun to read, suggesting the darker elements rather than getting bogged down in them.

It wraps up with a short story titled “Lo, There Shall Come… An Accounting!”, which is both an amusing glimpse behind-the-scenes of how the Avengers do their jobs, and a nifty little way for Busiek to bring his run to a definitive close.

Every fan of mainstream superhero comics should read these stories, because this sort of thing has rarely been done any better, by anyone.

Marvel Masterworks vol 83: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Speaking of reprints, I’m delighted to see Nick Fury getting the Marvel Masterworks treatment. The Steranko stuff was reprinted in paperback a few years ago, but it’s good enough that I’d like to own it in hardcover. This volume starts at the beginning of Fury’s run, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used the character as their own super-spy, back when super-spies were the hot thing.

S.H.I.E.L.D. was an international law-enforcement agency (although it was always portrayed as a U.S. agency) of which Fury becomes director. Fury is a no-nonsense World War II veteran with an eye patch who bring a certain rough-and-tumble attitude to the stiff-necked agency, with lots of high technology bridging the gap between them. Lee and Kirby of course play it for action and play up the gizmos, while Steranko – when he came on board – both emphasized the spy element, and used it as a venue to deploy his cinematic approach to storytelling, something which was as revolutionary at the time as Neil Adams’ commercial art sensibility was. This volume has a lot more of the former than the latter, but hopefully they’ll do a second volume. In any event, if you’re a fan of Lee/Kirby Marvel, then this one’s for you, True Believer!

What If? Featuring Planet Hulk Planet Hulk gets the What If? treatment, in an issue with a trio of stories written by regular HulkWorld War Hulk. In the second, the Hulk ends up on the peaceful planet he’d originally been sent to, resulting in a continuation of the Hulk/Banner conflict without anyone else around to bother. The third is a one-pager in which Bruce Banner lands on Sakaar instead of the Hulk, with predictable results, played for yuks with art by Fred Hembeck.

It’s not a bad issue, and all three artists are quite good, but I was disappointed that it was so predictable. Either Pak was phoning it in, or else this was an issue mandated by editorial, with all the imagination we should expect from such a thing.

In addition to the usual haul, Lee’s Comics had their annual Black October sale. These days I don’t have a lot I’m looking for that I can’t just get through my usual store, Comics Conspiracy, but I still like to go by nearby sales to check them out. It turns out I was pretty lucky at this one:

  I was pretty happy to pick up this issue of X-Men at a very reasonable price. It falls short of pristine, it’s still bright and shiny and in great condition. It’s a piece of my childhood that I’m happy to have on my bookshelf, even if it has been reprinted several times.
Rex Mundi: The Lost Kings vol 3 Rex Mundi seems to be getting a positive review every time I turn around. In the introduction to this volume, J.H. Williams III (who is an excellent artist, BTW) writes: “I feel when all is said and done this series will be looked upon by future readers as one of the more truly important pieces of comics work to make it to the published arena.”

It’s a pretty good book, but it’s not that good. It’s a fairly convoluted and slow-moving conspiracy story in an alternate 1933 in which the Protestant Reformation failed and Catholicism prevails in Europe. France is a world power and is bidding to become more of one. Our hero, Master Physician Julien Sauniére, uncovers a secret society and starts to peel back the layers of a two-thousand-year-old secret involving Jesus Christ and the lineage of the Kings of France. Characterization is not very strong, and it’s often difficult to work up the enthusiasm to follow the twists and turns of the conspiracies and secrets being revealed. And there’s rarely any substantial threat to the lives and well-being of the characters, so there’s rarely much urgency in the story. Just a lot of ambling around learning things. So it’s not a bad series, but I don’t think it’s a terrific adventure story, nor does it (so far) have anything profound to say about the human condition.

That said, it is a pretty good historical conspiracy story, so if that kind of thing is your cup of tea, I certainly recommend it.

This particular volume is a transition between the first artist (EricJ) and the current artist (Ferreyra). Ironically, I think the interim artist (Di Bartolo) is better than either of them, having the polish of Ferreyra while showing a wider range of expression than either of them. Funny that.

Scarlet Traces: The Great Game vol 2 HC The last issue of this second series of Scarlet Traces came out when I started reviewing comics weekly in this space, and I’d very much enjoyed the first series. This one isn’t quite as good, but it’s still enjoyable.

The premise is that after humans defeated the Martians in The War of The Worlds, we appropriated their technology and substantially ramped up our own. By “we” I mean “Britain”, which became the dominant world power, and in 1898 took the war to Mars. 40 years later, when this series opens, the war has not been going well, and photojournalist Charlotte Hemming embarks on a quest to find out exactly what’s going on. Backed by quirky-and-inventive artwork by D’Israeli, Edginton’s script evokes Alan Moore’s second League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, while telling a more focused story, and one with more than a little relationship to America’s current adventures in Iraq. It moves right along and has a satisfying ending.

I’m hoping there will be more Scarlet Traces in the future, as it feels like there’s plenty of space for further extrapolation. Time will tell.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 10 October 2007.

Welcome to the 52nd installment of This Week’s Haul! Wow, I’ve been at it for a whole year? Then it must be time to try out a slightly different format! I bet this works poorly in the syndication feed, though.

  • Booster Gold #3, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Countdown #29 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, Manual Garcia & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #2 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Nova #7, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Sean Chen, Scott Hanna & Brian Denham (Marvel)
  • Powers: Cosmic vol 10 TPB, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • The Clockwork Girl #1, by Sean O’Reilly, Kevin Hanna & Grant Bond (Arcana)
  • B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
Countdown #29 It’s all over the comics blogosphere that Countdown has been quite a muddle. Rich Johnston reported that the fur may be flying at DC editorial over the series’ sales (though of course Rich Johnston writes an admittedly-biased rumor column, so take it with a grain of salt). With the series nearly half-over, Countdown #29 amply illustrates the series’ muddled storytelling:

  • A generic “battle” cover which doesn’t occur in the book, featuring a plot thread which occupies a single page of the issue.
  • The introduction of some rather nasty supporting characters, who will apparently be the protagonists of an upcoming series – but who cares? (I guess they’ve appeared before, but I still don’t care.)
  • Half the issue is spent on four of the separate storylines, not really advancing any of them. (Graeme McMillan notes that he skipped two issues and didn’t really miss anything.)
  • A minor supporting character, the Jokester, who joined the world-traveling crew a few issues ago, is unceremoniously killed off for no good reason.
  • And it’s still not at all clear why we’re bothering with all this world-hopping in the first place, since it’s been just one random encounter after another.

It all comes down to writing: It’s just not good. There’s no sense of where the story is going (any of the stories), or even if it’s indeed going anywhere.. This is just the opposite of 52 which set up mysteries and adventures, and steadily resolved them. Not every plot thread worked, but as a whole it was entertaining. Countdown is just a messy assortment of stuff. The problem isn’t that the creators aren’t big names, it’s that there’s no direction, and no focus. I suspect this is either due to authorial mastermind Paul Dini not having come up with a good enough framework for the series, or else due to poor editorial direction.

Nova #7 Although I enjoy Nova, issue #7 ends up being rather a big nothing: Nova throws off the yoke of the Phalanx in somewhat-predictable fashion, escapes… and apparently isn’t going to have any substantial impact on the Annihilation Conquest story. So it ends up being rather pointless. Plus the cover is bland (although nicely rendered). It’s the first big misfire for either this series or the Annihiliation Conquest event, which is a pity since they’ve both been quite good before this point.

(It’s slightly disturbing that Chen is already being spelled by a fill-in artist for parts of the issues, though it helps that I hardly notice when the pages alternate between Chen and Denham while I’m actually reading the comic. Chen is a terrific artist – I first picked up Nova mainly because he’s on it – so I guess this means Denham’s pretty good, too. I hope Chen isn’t planning on leaving the book, though.)

Powers: Cosmic vol 10 TPB On a brighter note, Powers is the magnum opus of Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming. I’ve not been able to warm to either of their works other than this one, but Powers is really good: The ongoing story of two cops who work cases related to superheroes and supervillains, it ran for three years with Image Comics and then moved to Marvel’s Icon imprint. The first series revealed that Christian Walker used to be a hero, until he lost his powers, and then a superhero-created disaster resulted in powers being outlawed in the U.S. This new series ups the stakes as both Christian and his partner Deena Pilgrim get forced into increasingly risky scenarios, partly through choice and partly through circumstance. This latest volume, Cosmic, opens with the death of an unknown – but immensely powerful – hero, and the consequences that his death has for Christian.

Bendis’ hallmark as a writer is that he writes copious dialogue. His characters tend to be smartasses, often foul-mouthed and philosophical at the same time. In my opinion, his style doesn’t work at all when he writes for mainstream Marvel comic books, but it works fine in his own world, with its gritty and grimy settings and populace. Oeming’s relatively simple linework seems cartoony at first glance, but it actually works quite well with Bendis’ scripts, conveying the weight of the situations while still leaving room for the gleaming, four-color-style linework for the heroes; in other words, balancing the dark realism with the superpowered sense of awe. Weaving between the two extremes is what makes the book work – that and Bendis’ unflinching ability to keep raising the stakes for his protagonists while still keeping them grounded in their day-to-day jobs.

(My biggest regret about the second series is that Deena’s sunny, smartass personality has been fading under the weight of her burdens. On the other hand, it seems that Deena and Christian are on opposite trajectories in their respective stories, so no doubt this is all deliberate.)

Powers can be brutal and bloody at times, so it’s not for the squeamish. It is, however, well worth following for anyone who appreciates deconstructive approaches to the superhero genre.

(Although this is a good volume, if you haven’t read it before then you’re better off starting at the beginning, or at least the start of the second series.)

The Clockwork Girl #1 I reviewed the preview issue of The Clockwork Girl a few months ago, and the first full issue is pretty much what I expected, feeling very much like the opening act of a Disney film (which, y’know, isn’t always a bad thing). It features a young mechanical girl being unveiled to the public by her mad-scientist father, and her attracting the eye of a young wolf-boy created by a different scientist. The art is dynamic and polished. The cover is very neat, too, with an “Alice-in-Wonderland-but-not-really” feel to it. There’s every reason to think that this could be a good, all-ages read. Worth seeking out.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 19 September 2007.

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #56, by Tad Williams & Shawn McManus (DC)
  • Countdown #32 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Al Barrionuevo & Art Thibert (DC)
  • Countdown to Adventure #1 of 8, by Adam Beechen, Eddy Barrows & Julio Ferreira, and Justin Gray & Fabrizio Fiorentino (DC)
  • Countdown to Mystery #1 of 8, by Steve Gerber, Justiniano & Walden Wong, and Matthew Sturges & Stephen Jorge Segovia (DC)
  • Ex Machina #30, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Armageddon Conquest: Quasar #3 of 4, by Christos N. Gage, Mike Lilly, Bob Almond & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • World War Hulk #4 of 5, by Greg Pak, John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson (Marvel)
  • The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #1 #1 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)

Countdown #32Gee, it’s a new artist on Countdown! Too bad he got stuck illustrating this piece of cow flop, which largely involves a bachelorette party for Black Canary, who’s getting married to Green Arrow soon, in what is surely one of the most pointless company-wide events in recent memory. Countdown has been pretty widely panned in the blogosphere, and for good reason: There’s really no coherent story in it, and random events from the DC universe – like the GA/BC wedding – intrude on it for no good reason and to no good effect. It’s everything that 52 wasn’t, and that’s not a good thing.

Meanwhile, I broke down and decided to try both Countdown to Adventure and Countdown to Mystery, which are both sorta-kinda tie-ins to Countdown, each with two stories.

Countdown to Adventure #1Countdown to Adventure focuses on the “space heroes” from 52: Adam Strange, Starfire, and Animal Man. Adam Strange gets some competition in his role as protector of Rann, while Animal Man’s wife isn’t too wild about the buxom Starfire crashing in their house since she lost her powers. The art is very pretty and the story has promise, although honestly I get tired of writers dumping on Adam Strange all the time. Can’t the guy ever catch a break? I think the best Adam Strange story in the last 15 years was the JLA story in which he manipulated the Justice League to save Rann, showing that, yes, he really is just really clever and he can think rings around other heroes (and villains).

The back-up story is about Forerunner, a supporting character in Countdown, and it’s basically a good tale about a completely uninteresting character.

Countdown to Mystery #1Countdown to Mystery was originally going to be Steve Gerber’s relaunch of Doctor Fate, but I guess DC decided it might sell better if tied in to the current ongoing event of Countdown. Who knows if it does, but the story here has absolutely nothing to do with Countdown. In it the helmet of Nabu lands on the head of Dr. Kent Nelson, failed psychiatrist. Does he have any relationship at all to the Kent Nelson who was the original Doctor Fate? Who knows? Gerber’s trippy, stream-of-consciousness narrative doesn’t really work at all – the thing feels entirely by-the-numbers, like one of the glummer moments of a Doctor Strange run over at Marvel. Justiniano and Wong’s artwork sometimes feels like Tom Mandrake, and sometimes like Kevin O’Neill, which is a bizarre mixture. It’s not bad, although the tweaks to Fate’s costume look kind of silly.

The back-up here is about the current incarnation of Eclipso, a silly DC villain from the 60s who’s now in the body of the ex-wife of The Atom, for reasons which emerged in DC’s event of a couple of years ago, Identity Crisis, which was a series which had very pretty artwork and a completely nonsensical story. All of which means that this series probably would have been better if it had been left as just a new Doctor Fate series.

World War Hulk #4I think I see how World War Hulk is going to end: The Sentry is going to finally join the fray, try to talk the Hulk down from his rampage, they’ll get into a fight, and then the Sentry’s evil opposite number, the Void, will get released. In the ensuing chaos, the other heroes get free and try to contain the void, the the Hulk slips away somehow – possibly injured and taken by his allies out of reach of Earth’s heroes. And the Hulk’s story diverges from that of Earth again. Which would leave the question of: What happens next?

But first there’s the even bigger question: Can Greg Pak surprise me and pull off a different ending from this?

The Umbrella Academy #1Fans of Hellboy must check out The Umbrella Academy. Gerard Way is the frontman of the band My Chemical Romance, one of those rare alt-rock bands that I’ve actually heard of. Irrespective of that, the comic is actually quite good. The book has a strong Victorian-era feel, although details of the story suggest that it takes place in sometimes between 1920 and 1960 (after the death of Gustav Eiffel, for one thing). In it, a number of infants are mysteriously born to women across the globe, and a prominent man named The Monocle goes out to collect them, but finds only 7, whom he raises himself in The Umbrella Academy. The seven each have one or more unusual powers, but their father dotes on Number One, who is a Superman-like figure, and denegrates the others. The first half of the issue takes place when the group is 10, and the second half focuses on Number One, now called Spaceboy, 20 years later, when an accident has left him with the body of a giant gorilla.

The book has heroes in domino masks, a talking ape, a boxer beating up an alien, and one of the kids reappearing after a long absence. Ba’s art is reminiscent of Mike Mignola’s work on Hellboy, and the whole thing is creepy and eerie and provocative. A very neat start, I’m very much looking forward to the next issue!

(You can read some previously-published solo adventures of adult members of the Umbrella Academy on the comic’s MySpace page.)

On a completely different note, if you’re interested in any incarnation of the Justice Society of America of the last 35 years, you might be interested in the extended debate Kalinara and I are having about them on her blog. We have completely different points of view on the subject, which is amusing even if I do find her point of view rather incomprehensible! 🙂

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 27 June 2007.

Brian Hibbs says this is a big week, but it was a small week for me as a buyer, and not a strong one, either:

  • Countdown #44 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen & Carlos Magno (DC)
  • Wonder Woman #10, by Jodi Picoult & Paco Diaz (DC)
  • Hellboy: Darkness Calls #3 of 6, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • Castle Waiting #7, by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)

Countdown is getting so slow that it’s dreary. Unlike 52 where the characters had clear problems to deal with from the outset, Dini’s story is plodding along with various mysteries surrounding the characters, but not much that seems threatening. The core of the story is the Monitor cabal, but that storyline is developing at a glacial pace. Honestly, the “History of the DC Multiverse” backups are more interesting than the main story at this point, even though I’ve already read all the stories it’s recounting.

Even worse than that, though, is Wonder Woman: Jodi Picoult’s run on the title limps to a halt (but not a conclusion – no, for that you have to read Amazons Attack, which I’m not going to bother with) in rather pointless fashion. Has any title in recent memory been less focused and more frustrating than this Wonder Woman relaunch? I’m so fed up that I’m not even going to bother with Gail Simone’s run, as she’s the next sacrificial lamb on the book. (Simone seems to have the bad luck of being assigned to books after I’ve become so disspirited with them that I’m not even willing to give a new writer a chance. Birds of Prey, for instance.)

Somewhat brighter, Castle Waiting this month has the character interplay which is what I enjoy most about the book. The current story is dragging on a bit, and to no apparent conclusion, but at least some of the bits along the way are fun. I do wish Medley would get back to writing shorter, more focused stories, though. The first volume of the title was great fun until it went off the rails with “Solicitine”, a lengthy story about the story of Sister Peace, the bearded nun, which I wished had been condensed down to about half its length.

Okay, I guess I’m just a grump about comics this week.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 13 June 2007.

  • Countdown #46 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Fables: Sons of Empire TPB vol 9, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Michael Allred & others (DC/Vertigo)
  • Fables #62, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice #12 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Doug Braithwaite (DC)
  • Nova #3, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Sean Chen & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • World War Hulk #1 of 5, by Greg Pak, John Romita Jr., & Klaus Janson (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls # 4 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • New Tales of Old Palomar #2, by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
  • Hero by Night #4 of 4, by D.J. Coffman & Jason Embury (Platinum Studios)

I realized earlier this week that Countdown seems to be featuring mostly new artists in its stable. I think the most prominent artist I recognized was J. Calafiore, who’s mainly known for his decent-but-unspectacular work on Marvel’s Exiles. 52 used several artists per issue (until the later issues), which made for uneven artwork, but there was usually some good stuff in each issue. So far, none of the Countdown artists have been duds, so that’s good.

Justice is one of the least-necessary mini-series in recent memory. Ross’ painting over Braithwaite’s pencils was so-so, certainly nowhere near as good as raw Ross. The story was a straight-up classic JLA story: A bunch of villains get together to erase the heroes and take over the world, but the heroes fight back, and one of the villains has a secret plan behind the main plan. Plot-by-numbers, with the additional (and ultimately meaningless) element of the villains knowing the heroes’ secret identities.

The series tries to be different by providing insight into the heroes’ psyches, via first-hand narratives. Frankly, it’s just awful. Somehow Kurt Busiek makes this sort of monologue work in series like Marvels (Ross’ first major work) and Astro City, but it completely fizzles here, sounding contrived and often cloying (which it also did in Ross’ series of tabloids with Paul Dini from a few years ago). For instance, this scene:

[Superman streaks out of the sky, heat vision flashing.]

Superman: No one’s going to die, Scarecrow. Not in your city, or the one that’s sinking. Or in any of them. Not one. Not today.

Green Lantern (internal monologue): There’s fear in Superman’s voice. He doesn’t believe his words. He says them anyway. As if speaking the impossible is the first step to making it possible.

The series was full of tell-don’t-show text like this. Wordy, unnecessary.

If you cut out that stuff, the series is just another Justice League story, with way too many characters. It doesn’t even make me nostalgic for the 70s JLA, it’s just not a good series. But it’s over.

World War Hulk, on the other hand, is a lot of fun so far. Not least because Iron Man and his cronies need their butts kicked by someone, and the Hulk’s a great candidate to do it. I’m not a big fan of John Romita Jr’s artwork but he does have a clarity of layout to make the big fight scenes entertaining. The blogosphere is giving this one good reviews so far, so it looks like writer Greg Pak is going places.

Nova is another side of the Civil War fallout, and issue #3 continues to build on the series’ strong start, as Nova encounters some new enemies and an old friend and see just how messed up the Marvel universe has become. It looks like the series is pulling away from Earth for a while after this issue (presumably because Nova might actually be powerful to take on the Hulk and that would just confuse everything), but hopefully it will continue to be as rewarding. I’m reluctant to bother with any of Marvel’s space-based cross-overs, so I hope the next few issues will be readable on their own.

New Tales of Old Palomar is surreal this month. Disappointing, really. I prefer the character stuff.