This Week’s Haul

Quite a large week this week – with no collections! And I think every Image comic I buy came out this week. Weird.

  • American Vampire #10, by Scott Snyder & Mateus Sontolouco (DC/Vertigo)
  • DC Universe: Legacies #8 of 10, by Len Wein, Scott Kolins, Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway & Frank Quitely (DC)
  • Green Lantern Corps #55, by Tony Bedard, Tyler Kirkham & Batt (DC)
  • Green Lantern: Larfleeze Christmas Special #1, by Geoff Johns & Brett Booth (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #8, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Daniel HDR, Wayne Faucher & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Power Girl #19, by Judd Winick & Sami Basri (DC)
  • Zatanna #8, by Paul Dini & Cliff Chiang (DC)
  • Fantastic Four #586, by Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Incognito: Bad Influences #2 of 6, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Incorruptible #13, by Mark Waid & Marcio Takara (Boom)
  • Chew #16, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
  • Dynamo 5 Holiday Special 2010 #1, by Jay Faerber & Marcio Takara (Image)
  • Invincible #76, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley & Cliff Rathburn (Image)
  • Morning Glories #5, by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma (Image)
  • The Sixth Gun #7, by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni)
I can’t believe it took me this long to realize that DC Universe: Legacies is structurally the same as the 1999 mini-series Superman and Batman: World’s Finest. In fact, this issue walks the same ground as issue #9 of that series, the replacement Superman and Batman from the mid-1990s (plus the Green Lantern/Parallax development). I’ve always had a soft spot for the World Series series, which had an understated story exploring the development of Superman and Batman’s friendship (which started off strained) and some surprisingly good artwork from artists I was not generally familiar with.

Despite having higher-profile artists, including some of my favorites, Legacies is not as good a series. The framing story of a Metropolis policeman watching the DC Universe develop from the late 1930s to today is pretty generic and progressing slowly, and not as strong as the (still fairly loose) background story in World’s Finest. Plus, another survey of DC’s history doesn’t really seem necessary; I’d been hoping this series would be more than that.

With 2 issues left, there’s time for writer Len Wein to pull a rabbit out of his hat and make this series something surprising. But after 8 issues, it looks like what we see is what we get. It’s okay, but nothing special.

Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four is on the cusp of its first big development, the death of one of the team members. While I’ve felt the series has been rather slow and even dull so far, his manipulation of the build-up to “Three” has been pretty good, putting the heroes into perilous situations where any of the might die: The Thing has reverted to human form for a month, just as some minions of Annihilus attack the Baxter Building, which he, the Human Torch and the kids must defend. Mister Fantastic has gone into space with Galactus to find the corpse of the world-devourer’s future self, and Reed is trying to evacuate the remaining inhabitants of an artificial world before Galactus destroys it. (This is a pretty clever extension of a story laid down by Mark Millar in his run on the book.) And the Invisible Woman is trying to stave off a war between the Sub-Mariner and his kingdom and the more-sinister-than-they-appear (according to Namor) prehistoric Atlanteans who have recently reappeared.

While I’ve been skeptical of Hickman as a master-planner so far (his S.H.I.E.L.D. series has been pretty unconvincing as a millennia-long-global-conspiracy yarn), how he’s assembled the pieces here is actually pretty impressive now that I see it. This is hardly the first time one of the FF has died (or at least been pronounced dead) – it feels almost as old hat as the team breaking up – but it’s how the ramifications of the death are handled which will make or break the event.

And of course Steve Epting’s art is always a joy to see. He’s got everything Brian Hitch brings to the table, but with superior layouts faces that seem more realistic. How this guy isn’t a superstar by now, I don’t know.

Since I last checked in with Dynamo 5 in my blog, there’s been a mini-series (Sins of the Father) and now this holiday special. The characters have recently had their powers switched around among them, a gimmick I’m not really a fan of: It always seems to suggest that the writer either has run out of ideas for the original set-up, or he decided that the original arrangement was the wrong one, and in this case I think the new arrangement is a definitely downgrade to the original. That aside, the story in Sins was pretty solid, leading up to a big cathartic moment for Smasher, the team’s strong-man, who in everyday life is a wimpy kid.

This one-shot involves the team trying to track down an escaped super-villain, who seems to have attacked two teenage girls. Not all it what it seems, of course, but unfortunately the heartwarming holiday payoff isn’t really plausible or satisfying. Moreover, I’m not real big on artist Marcia Takara (who also draws Incorruptible for Boom, where I’m also not a fan of his), as I find his sketchy finishes, simple layouts, and minimal backgrounds really make the book not very attractive.

I’d say to give this one a miss, except that it wraps up with five short epilogues portending future story directions, and they’re pretty good. But then, I expect what we learn here will be recapitulated when the plot points come to fruition. So yeah, the holiday special isn’t required reading unless you’re already on-board the Dynamo 5 train. If you’re not, either wait for the next mini-series, or pick up Sins when it arrives in trade paperback.

This Week’s Haul

And… we’re back! A bumpy ride for the server the site’s hosted on has slowed down getting much done around here, but it doesn’t stop me from buying new comics, no sir!

  • Astro City: Astra #2 of 2, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Blackest Night #4 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Green Lantern #47, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #32, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #16, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (DC/Vertigo)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #19, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Wesley Craig (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #137, by Fred Van Lente, Greg Pak & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
  • Nova #30, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Kevin Sharpe & Nelson Pereira (Marvel)
  • FreakAngels vol 3 TPB, by Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield (Avatar)
  • Ignition City #5 of 5, by Warren Ellis & Gianluca Pagliarani (Avatar)
  • Abe Sapien: The Haunted Boy, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Patric Reynolds (Dark Horse)
  • Dynamo 5 #25, by Jay Faerber, Mahmud A. Asrar & others (Image)
Astro City: Astra #2 One way to look at superhero comics history in the so-called Marvel Age of Comics is that Stan Lee and his bullpen humanized heroes by giving them down-to-Earth problems in the 1960s (Spider-Man being the prime example), and creators of the late 70s and early 80s took the next step by – essentially – turning team comics into ongoing soap operas involving the relationships among the crimefighters (the new X-Men and the New Teen Titans). One could see that the next logical step in that progression might be for heroes to have lives and problems which are directly reflective of those of real people, whether they’re your everyday Joe or a worldwide celebrity. But instead comics went in a different direction, moving towards stories based primarily in shock value (violence, sex, gore, and zombies) and incestuous continuity for the hard-core fan. Rather than bringing the content of comics closer to the mainstream, this served to get comics noticed by the mainstream, and then marginalized as commercial art form more than ever before, as sales over the last 15 years have been at historic lows.

Disregarding any oversimplifications I’ve made, the two part Astro City special featuring Astra is arguably a glimpse of how comics could have gone. Astra is a worldwide celebrity with the problems of being a worldwide celebrity – problems you rarely see, say, the Fantastic Four having to deal with – such as trying to figure out what to do with her life after college, under intense media scrutiny which doesn’t always regard her in a heroic light. The genius of Kurt Busiek‘s series is that he considers the natural implications of what a world full of superheroes means, without making it a grim and depressing world as one sees in Watchmen or its legions of descendants. As Astra gives her boyfriend a tour of a slice of her life, we see both the wonders she’s experienced and the downsides of being a famous superhero. Busiek is the best in the business at presenting such nuances with a minimum of authorial judgment, resulting in a rich world full of crunchy notions for the reader to think about. There’s really nothing else like it in comics.

That said, the Astra story was a little disappointing in that Busiek took what I thought was a disappointingly cheap shot in the development of Astra’s relationship with her boyfriend. I saw it coming pages away, and thought, “Geez, I hope that’s not the way this story is going”, but it was. Even making what I thought was this poor choice, Busiek still handles it elegantly, but it still made the story less than I’d hoped.

Nonetheless, any week with a new Astro City is a good week!

Guardians of the Galaxy #19 Guardians of the Galaxy wraps up its various ongoing storylines this month – but unfortunately it’s not good. Star-Lord’s team returns from the future to learn that Adam Warlock managed to prevent the rift opened at the end of War of Kings from dooming that future, but the price he paid is of being transformed into his own evil future self, the Magus, whom the Guardians must now defeat to save the future again. They do so, but at a very high price: About half of the team is dead by the end of the story.

Boy, where to begin? Guardians as a series has been wrecked by crossovers with Marvel events, especially War of Kings. The characters have never been able to develop as a result, the team having been fragmented for months. The initial promise of Vance Astro arriving from the future and the murky threat of the mysterious Universal Church of Truth have been completely swamped by these later, largely unrelated, developments. The story’s developed so haphazardly that there’s really been no dramatic payoff to any of those elements, and killing off half the cast is a poor reward for fans following the series to this point. (And bringing them back would be even cheaper.)

The artwork in the series has gone steadily downhill, too, with Wesley Craig’s work here being its nadir: Simple, angular linework, extreme facial grimaces, minimal backgrounds, it’s very cartoony in appearance and just doesn’t work for me in the Marvel space milieu.

Its fellow title Nova has held up much better through the various crossovers, moving both its main character and its background forward a little bit each year. Guardians seems to have fallen completely apart, having lost its focus and not replaced it with anything. It’s one high-stakes action sequence after another, and that gets tiresome after a while unless there’s something more coherent holding it all together. But just typing the synopsis of the recent issues made me shake my head at how disjointed it all is. It may be time to bail on this series.

(Incidentally, although Kang the Conqueror appears prominently on the cover and does impact the storyline, he does so as a deus-ex-machina and isn’t even the adversary in the book. Talk about misleading!)

Ignition City #5 Warren EllisIgnition City wraps up this week. Cynical and violent, it’s been sort of interesting in pulling together analogs of old SF heroes into one rather depressing milieu. The story works out a little better than most of what I’ve read from Ellis’ series for Avatar, as I don’t really want to read what Ellis comes up with when a publisher lets him unleash the grotesqueries of his mind, but it’s still a so-so read. The world Ellis has concocted is interesting – after the golden age of spaceflight in the 1930s comes to an end, the remaining spacemen are stranded on the island of Ignition City in the 1950s – but we really only scratch the surface of it. The most interesting bit is a Buck Rogers character who’s depressed because of his glimpse of the bleak 25th century. Mary Raven’s quest to avenger her father doesn’t really measure up to the implied backstories of the other characters.

Gianluca Pagliarani’s artwork is okay, although his characters don’t always have a consistent look and their expressions tend toward the vacant; his renderings of the gritty setting are solid, though.

Overall, not one of Ellis’ stronger works, and I doubt I’ll be on board for any sequels.

Dynamo 5 #25 Jay Faerber is I suppose the reigning king of superhero soap opera comics, first with Noble Causes about a famous team of superheroes and the people they slept with, and now with Dynamo 5, about a team of young heroes who each have one power inherited from their father, Captain Dynamo, who fathered each of them with a different woman, and none with his actual wife, who’s now the team’s mentor. I bailed on Noble Causes early in its run due to an erratic publishing schedule, even more erratic artwork, and a story I couldn’t quite follow. I only gave Dynamo 5 a chance recently, and it’s a much better series, with a consistent artist, Mahmud A. Asrar, who’s entirely capable of drawing a fun, dynamic superhero series, with a bit of a Bryan Hitch look to his style but more of a fluid Alan Davis approach to his layouts.

This issue is apparently Asrar’s last, and the series is going on hiatus while Faeber brings a new artist up to speed. But the first 25 issues are a lot of fun, with characters from different backgrounds with powers that don’t always match their personalities, and the usual frictions among the members. This issue culminates the recent storyline in which the team were stripped of their powers, but in a twist reminiscent of Power Pack, they regain them but each member has a different power than they’d had before. So this is a natural breaking point between Asrar’s run and whatever comes next. It might also be a good jumping-on point for a new reader, save for the aforementioned hiatus, which may well see the series cease to be a regular series and go to some different format. Which would be a shame since that’s one of the things that put me off of Noble Causes.

Drawing comics art is hard work, no doubt about it, especially given the high standards artists working at a modern major company are held to by the company and the readers. (Just look at some of the criticisms I level at artists of comics I read.) So I respect both Faerber and Asrar for trying to figure out how to position Dynamo 5 to continue publication in the future. But on the other hand, options like a “series of mini-series” are very hard to pull off, and I think Robert Kirkman’s Invincible has demonstrated how important it is to have a regular artist who can work a regular monthly schedule and produce quality work as well; there’s really no substitute for it. Heck, the musical artist chairs afflicting some series at DC and Marvel have really hurt those series, too (I’m looking at you, Guardians of the Galaxy). Honestly I think finding such an artist ought to be Faerber’s highest priority for Dynamo 5.

All that aside, if you’re looking for some quality science fiction soap opera, check out the paperback collections of Dynamo 5. And then we can see what direction the series takes from here.

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.