This Week’s Haul

Actually not this week’s haul (which came out today), but the last two weeks’ hauls. You know how it goes…

Two Weeks Ago:

  • American Vampire #7, by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque (DC/Vertigo)
  • Madame Xanadu #27, by Matt Wagner & Celia Calle (DC/Vertigo)
  • Secret Six #26, by Gail Simone & Jim Calafiore (DC)
  • Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #5 of 6, by Peter Hogan, Chris Sprouse & Karl Story (DC/America’s Best Comics)
  • Captain America: Forever Allies #3 of 4, by Roger Stern, Nick Dragotta & Marco Santucci (Marvel)
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. #4, by Jonathan Hickman & Dustin Weaver (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #10, by Mark Waid, Horacio Domingues, Juan Castro & Michael Babinski (Boom)
  • The Boys #47, by Garth Ennis & Russ Braun (Dynamite)

Last Week:

  • Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5 of 6, by Grant Morrison, Ryan Sook, Pere Pérez & Mick Gray (DC)
  • Green Lantern #58, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #3, by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin & Cam Smith (DC)
  • Knight & Squire #1 of 6, by Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton (DC)
  • Superman #703, by J. Michael Straczynski, Eddy Barrows & J.P. Mayer (DC)
  • The Unwritten #18, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs. Jeckyll/Hyde special, by Ian Edginton & Horacio Domingues (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Casanova #4, by Matt Fraction & Gabriel Bá (Marvel/Icon)
  • Echo #25, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Irredeemable #18, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
I’m not entirely sure what to make of Paul Cornell. He’s a very inventive writer, but his plotting is rather scattershot, and more portentous than meaningful. I had this feeling when I read his novel Something More, and the first episode of Doctor Who he wrote, “Father’s Day” (though he did get the emotional center of that one right, even if the story didn’t make a lot of sense). His current run on Action Comics is in a similar vein. In a way he seems like Grant Morrison lite: An idea man, but his execution can feel haphazard and unsatisfying.

In fact, he’s picking up a couple of Grant Morrison creations in this new mini-series, Knight and Squire (okay, they first appeared in the silver age, but Morrison basically recreated them from whole cloth, since it’s not like “the English Batman and Robin” is a concept with legs all by itself), and Cornell reintroduces them here in a pub where heroes and villains gather to hang out, compelled by the magic of the place not to fight. It’s not a bad idea, but it’s an awkward way to introduce the main characters, throwing them into an Alan-Moore-esque “let’s introduce a hodge-podge of British heroes and villains all at once” story, characters that the reader really has no investment in. It’s more of a neat concept than a story – which again feels very Morrison-like.

So, it’s an okay beginning, but felt kind of inconsequential. Broxton’s art is nice, sort of Alan Davis crossed with Ed McGuinness. If this series is just going to be six cute vignettes, though, then I think it’ll be a disappointment. Hopefully Cornell’s got something larger planned, and something that focuses on the main characters.

Last month Mark Waid tweeted:

"In stores today: IRREDEEMABLE #17 -- maybe my favorite cliffhanger I've ever written, and @petergkrause nails it."

While it was a pretty good cliffhanger, honestly I’d kind of seen it coming. Partly as a result, I think both of Waid’s cliffhangers in this month’s books are better than that one: Incorruptible sees our villain-turned-hero and new sidekick rescuing (after a fashion) the Plutonian’s former girlfriend, and learning what her captors had planned – a plan which they apparently execute on the last page. Irredeemable builds a new plot thread out of whole cloth – plausibly, since it revolves around the world’s Batman-type character – with truly world-changing consequences (even by the standards of a Superman figure turned evil) on the final page.

Irredeemable has been consistently solid, but it felt like it was marking time until artist Peter Krause returned, and now it’s kicking into high gear. Incorruptible has been thrashing a bit, trying to find its voice and purpose (and it hasn’t really done so yet), being somewhat overwhelmed by the events in its companion title that the main character hasn’t really had much of a chance to shine, but it’s still got some good stuff, and I think it still has a good chance to improve – I’m just not quite sure what I want to see it do that would make it better. I think I’d like more of a focus on Max and the implications of his decision to turn good, since so far it mostly seems like a lot of adventuring and those implications are dealt with almost incidentally.

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

  • The Brave and the Bold #30, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Ex Machina #47, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fables #91, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #43, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • Power Girl #7, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Astonishing X-Men #33, by Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #1, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
  • The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #3 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
The Brave and the Bold #30 The fourth issue of J. Michael Straczynski’s The Brave and the Bold is a little better than the first three. The plot works like this: Some years ago Doctor Fate encountered Green Lantern (the Hal Jordan version) at a point when Fate was feeling a little uneasy about his role in the universe. He imprinted a piece of himself in Green Lantern’s ring with the intent that it will emerge sometime in the future, and then return to the past to inform him of how his life has turned out in the intervening years. So in the present day, GL has gotten into trouble on a dead world when the Fate aspect emerges, and together the two of them work to help GL escape safely, but at the cost of the Fate aspect not being able to return to his originator. This is a small tragedy since this Doctor Fate – the original, Kent Nelson – has died years since, and GL suggests that maybe by going back, the aspect could help the original Fate survive.

The story is rather contrived, relying on some pretty obscure continuity details, but glossing over some other continuity details (such as that GL probably doesn’t have the same ring he had years ago, due to his own convoluted history). But the spirit of the story works pretty well.

Unfortunately, Straczynski’s run on the title has been dragged down by exposing many of his weaknesses as a writer. To start with, when Mark Waid launched the series a few years ago, he put a new spin on the book by writing an epic story which featured a large cast, whereas Staczynski has been writing one-off character pieces pairing a major hero (Batman, Flash, Green Lantern) with a lesser one (Doctor Fate is the biggest name among these; the others have been Dial “H” For Hero, the Blackhawks, and Brother Power the Geek). Straczynski seems to have a weakness for these little character pieces, and they worked fine in Babylon 5 as a break from the larger story, but a steady diet of them makes the title feel, well, trivial.

Straczynski is known – rightly or wrongly – for writing weak or stilted dialogue. I mostly think his dialogue is fine, but B&B seems filled with some of the most overwrought narratives I can recall him writing, mixed with some flagrantly inappropriate dialogue for the characters in question. The set-up for this story seems contrived for Fate to get in a zinger about GL’s ring not working on the color yellow, which is very much against character for Fate. The story also ends with a lengthy monologue by Fate in the past wondering what happened to his aspect, which also feels very un-Fate-like. The line between Doctor Fate’s character and Kent Nelson’s has always been fuzzily drawn – on purpose, I think – with the character acting very differently depending on whether he has his mask on or not, and Straczynski seems to tear down the divide here, having Fate speak with Nelson’s voice, a development which just doesn’t ring true for the character. This feels especially wrong since it occurs just two pages after Fate took off his helmet to speak with Nelson’s voice, underscoring the difference between the two sides of the character. Straczynski seems to be forcing the character to fit his story, rather than writing to the character, and it hurts what in general is a fine story.

The brightest light in the issue is the development of Jesus Saiz as the artist. A few issues ago his art felt generic and even stiff, but this issue flows beautifully and has a smoothness and use of shadow and expression that goes some way to compensate for the dialogue, especially since the story is mostly two guys standing around and talking to each other. It’s a nearly-unprecedented pace of development for an artist, and it does make me curious to see where he’ll go next.

Power Girl #7 Power Girl reintroduces the character Vartox, who in the 1970s (before DC rebooted everything) was a rival with Superman for Lana Lang’s attentions. Amanda Conner even draws an homage to the cover of Vartox’s first appearance, and the character still has his extra-cheesy 1970s porn star outfit. In this issue, Vartox’s world becomes sterilized, so he comes to Earth to court Power Girl to be his mate, to start repopulating his world. You can imagine how this goes over with PG, and Vartox is also unspeakably stupid in the stunts he uses to try to woo her, resulting in a powerful and destructive alien being released on Earth.

Greg Burgas loved this issue but I was disappointed. Gray and Palmiotti’s writing on Power Girl has been filled with jokes and themes about Power Girl’s body and sexuality, and while I don’t expect a PG title to never have such things, it’s been just one after another in this series. And her adventures have been fairly trivial: Another fight with the Ultra-Humanite, who wants to put his brain in her body, a group of spoiled rich space girls who come to Earth to have fun, and now Vartox. It’s become a one-note series, and the note is sounding pretty flat.

What I’d like to see in Power Girl is more attention to her being the CEO of her own company (in her secret identity), more time mentoring the young heroine Terra, and some threats with some real weight behind them. There’s a lot of good material to work with here, but instead it’s one lighthearted adventure after another, and not even particularly clever ones.

Yeah, yeah, Amanda Conner’s art is still terrific, but that can only take the book so far.

Incorruptible #1 Mark Waid’s bid to take over the world from Boom! Studios continues with his third title from the company, Incorruptible a spin-off of his excellent series Irredeemable. (His other series, The Unknown also has a fine issue out this week.) Where Irredeemable was about a Superman-like hero going bad for reasons still being explored, Incorruptible is about one of the foremost super-villains going straight and becoming a hero after the Plutonian went bad. The main character is Max Damage, who shows up in this issue after an extended absence to take down his own gang and turn them into the police. He then takes a detective to his lair where he shows him the millions of dollars in his vault – before torching it all as tainted money. Naturally this doesn’t make his sidekick, Jailbait, happy; she’s an underage girl who used to be Max’s lover, and now he’s toeing the straight-and-narrow, while she was happy with a life of crime.

It’s a hell of a set-up, and Waid packs a lot into this first issue, with the promise of plenty of mayhem and ethical dilemmas in Max and Jailbait’s future. Jean Diaz draws the hell out of the thing, the main flaw being some flat expressions, but hopefully that will change with experience. Incorruptible has every sign of being as solid a book as Irredeemable, showcasing Waid’s strengths as having a deep understanding of what makes superheroes work, while being interested in taking them in new directions while staying within the main conventions of the genre. No one in the industry does that better than Mark Waid.