This Week’s Haul

Hot on the heels of Disney buying Marvel Comics, it’s time for another round of reviews.

  • Wednesday Comics #9 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Immortal Weapons #2 of 5, by Cullen Bunn, Dan Brereton, Tom Palmer, Stefano Gaudiano & Mark Pennington, and Duane Swierczynski & Travel Foreman (Marvel)
  • Incognito #6 of 6, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Irredeemable #6, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder: In The Service of Angels #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #34, by Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra (Dynamite)
Wednesday Comics #9 Another week, another Wednesday Comics. Green Lantern, Metamorpho and Strange Adventures all have significant developments, although the Green Lantern one seems too sudden, and I’m having a hard time keeping track of the parties in Strange Adventures (and why do the aliens all look like Baboons?).

I’m still a little baffled by where Flash is going, although this issue has a nifty stylistic gimmick involving comic strips, which I enjoyed.

Three more issues…

Immortal Weapons #2 Immortal Weapons is a 5-issue mini-series bridging the gap while Iron Fist is on hiatus (though whether it actually comes back is still uncertain), each issue spotlighting one of Fist’s fellow superhuman warriors from the mystical cities in the sky. Fist’s own series flagged a little toward the end, but it was generally quite good; Immortal Weapons is just as good, and maybe a little better. The first issue provided the biography of Fat Cobra, whose history didn’t quite match his recollection of it. This second issue focuses on Bride of Nine Spiders, a considerably creepier figure than the gregarious Cobra, and it’s told as a horror story involving one of the Bride’s eight-legged companions, and the fate of several people interested in it. Dan Brereton nails the spooky feel of the story, which would feel perfectly at home in some of the horror stories of the 1970s. Good stuff.

There’s an Iron Fist backup story running through the series, which is a pretty routine piece about the family of one of Fist’s students getting embroiled in a drug-related conflict. I guess it’s marking time for the main character before wherever his series goes next, but the series would be better-served with longer main stories, I think. Nonetheless, if you’ve any interest in Iron Fist at all, I’d suggest giving this series a try.

Incognito #6 Brubaker & Phillips’ Incognito wraps up this week. It started as a pulpy adventure yarn in which Zack Overkill, a former supervillain, was in witness protection after testifying against his boss. The story progressed as Zack learned he could get his powers back, and was conflicted about whether to use his powers for good or for bad. Predictably, eventually everyone interested finds out about him, and he ends up between a rock and a hard place.

But the series seemed a little pedestrian and manipulative – until this issue, when everything is revealed: Who Zack is and what his background is, and it’s, well, not what I was expecting, and made his story much more compelling, enough so that I hope this isn’t the end of Zack’s story, since I’d be happy to read more of it. Oddly, although the text piece Brubaker writes for each issue is titled “The Secret Ingredient is Pulp”, I’d say the secret ingredient is really… secrets. The hard-boiled suspense approach felt slightly out-of-place in Zack’s world, but once the stakes got raised and the surprising and fantastic facts behind Zack’s life were revealed, everything gelled into a much weightier story.

Brubaker and Phillips are going back to their crime series Criminal next, and I’ve caught up on what they’ve done before while Incognito was coming out. (You can do so yourself by reading the trade paperbacks: one, two, three and four.) Overall Criminal is a bit better than Incognito, although I’d say the latter series has a higher ceiling (and arguably they’ve both been lapped by Sleeper). If part of the goal of Incognito was to recruit new readers for Criminal, well their devious plan succeeded, because I’ll be picking up the new series when it shows up.

(Oh yeah, and naturally you’ll be able to read the collection of Incognito when it comes out.)

This Week’s Haul

Actually two week’s worth of comics, since I didn’t pick them up while I was on vacation. This includes Marvel’s notoriously large shipment from that week:

  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three #3 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Batman and Robin #2, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)
  • Green Lantern #42, by Geoff Johns, Philip Tan, Eddy Barrow, Jonathan Glapion & Ruy José (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #28, by Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • The Literals #3, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Madame Xanadu #12, by Matt Wagner & Michael Wm. Kaluta (DC/Vertigo)
  • Astonishing X-Men #30, by Warren Ellis & Simone Bianchi (Marvel)
  • Avengers/Invaders #12 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Steve Sadowski & Jack Herbert (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #15, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker, Victor Olazaba & Livesay (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #130, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Ryan Stegman, Rodney Buchemi & Terry Pallot (Marvel)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist #27, by Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman, David Lapham & Timothy Green II (Marvel)
  • Nova #26, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • War of Kings #5 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Echo #13, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Irredeemable #4, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder #1 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Ben Stenbeck & Dave Stewart (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #32, by Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra (Dynamite)
  • Prince Valiant: 1937-1938 vol 1 HC, by Hal Foster (Fantagraphics)
Green Lantern #42 The interesting thing about Green Lantern #42 – which wraps up the “Agent Orange” story before we launch into “Blackest Night” – is that it so baldly demonstrates how machiavellian the Guardians of the Universe have become. The Guardians started off as mysterious and withdrawn arbiters of justice, and over the years have become less and less sympathetic, pursuing their own agendas, answering to nobody (least of all their own Green Lantern Corps), and making decisions humans would consider questionable.

In “Agent Orange”, a group of Lanterns confronts Larfleeze, the keeper of the orange light, an obsessive collector who desires the blue ring that Hal Jordan has acquired. (For those keeping score at home the lights we’ve seen so far include green for will, yellow for fear, magenta for love, blue for hope, and orange for avarice.) Hal manages to hold him off until the Guardians – Larfleeze’s old enemies – show up and make peace with him by giving him something he wants. What he wants is a blue ring, so they tell him where the two renegade Guardians who are forming the blue corps are hiding, and he attacks them. Yes, the Guardians essentially threw two of their own under the bus to build a treaty with this insane creature. Hal doesn’t know what exactly they gave him, but he knows it can’t be a good thing, whatever it is.

I wonder where Johns is going with all this – and I wonder it in a good way. Are we heading towards an eventual rebellion of the Lanterns towards the Guardians? Is something going on with the Guardians to make them so nasty? It’s hard to see how this status quo can hold without the heroes becoming complicit in the questionable actions of their bosses. Yet it’s also a fascinating romp through the relationships among the powerful beings that inhabit DC’s outer space milieu. Good stuff.

The Literals #3 Well thank the powers that be that that’s over.

The Literals #3 wraps up “The Great Fables Crossover”, which has been so horribly written that it actually made me consider giving up on Fables altogether. The premise is that Kevin Thorn has the power to rewrite reality, and he’s decided that our reality has worn out its welcome, so he’s going to wipe it out and create a new one. He kills his brother, Writer’s Block, and stops his father, his son, and several other characters from interfering, spending eight issues eventually getting around to taking action – before the heroes get to him and do, indeed, stop him.

There was maybe three issues of story here, stretched out to nine issues. The rest of the space is filled with plenty of Jack of Fables’ annoying antics (reminding me why I dropped his book in the first place – I can’t stand reading about him), introducing a new character (Jack Frost, the other Jack’s son), and stretching out Kevin’s efforts to overcome Writer’s Block and other minor obstacles as far as possible.

And honestly I just didn’t give a damn about any of it, especially since most of the setup appeared to revolve around the Jack of Fables supporting cast, and having nothing at all to do with the ongoing story in Fables itself.

The Literals appears to have been created specifically to play out this crossover story, featuring several character who represent various elements of literature (individual genres, as well as more abstract elements). It looks like this was the last issue of the series, which is something of a mercy: While these characters are interesting ideas in the abstract, this story has been the worst possible manner in which to launch a new series.

Honestly I’m not sure what Willingham and Sturges were thinking here. The whole thing was badly conceived, badly written, and unrewarding, a strong contender for the award of worst comics story I’ve read this year. I hope Fables gets back on track next issue and we can all forget that “The Great Fables Crossover” ever happened.

Avengers/Invaders #12 Avengers/Invaders has been perhaps the best of the Alex Ross/Jim Krueger collaborations. Unfortunately, that doesn’t set the bar very high, so this 12-issue series has been merely “okay”.

I’m not sure exactly what it is, but every Ross/Krueger book I’ve read has been ponderously paced, striving to be thoughtful but instead being merely dull. I don’t know whether this is a fundamental flaw in Ross’ approach to plotting, or if Krueger brings out the worst in his storytelling, but either way Earth X, Project Superpowers and this one have all been pretty tedious.

What elevates this series above the others is that it seems more tightly focused (even though it’s told in three discrete four-issue segments), having a clear direction and a reasonable resolution at each stage of the way. The other books seemed to get bogged down in their ambition, losing sight of what they were doing and ultimately just being unsatisfying both to read and to have read. A/I also has more action and some sympathetic characters, from tragic World War II soldier Paul Anselm who is thrown into the present along with the Invaders and who causes the problems they’re trying to resolve in this third chapter, to the two Captains America, the first of whom is currently dead in modern times, and the second of whom is his partner Bucky, who is one of the Invaders thrown forward in time. The cast is way too large to give everyone equal time – most of the Avengers are merely troops supporting the main characters – but the focus on the main figures, especially the Invaders, makes the story work well enough.

Unfortunately, the story isn’t really very original: We have Ultron again, the Red Skull controlling the Cosmic Cube again, characters from the past viewing elements of the present day as downright evil (a theme explored more brutally in the DC Two Thousand JLA/JSA story from 9 years ago). So the story has less of an impact than it might have since it feels largely rehashed.

Steve Sadowski’s artwork is pretty nifty, although I find his layouts to be a little confusing at times, and his action sequences to feel somewhat muted. I think he’s inking himself here, but a stronger inker might bring out his best elements more effectively. (His inks seem influenced by Tom Palmer, whose style worked best over a more dynamic penciller.)

Anyway, I don’t regret having read it, but Avengers/Invaders doesn’t make me optimistic that the Ross/Krueger tandem has turned the corner. And certainly I still have no interest in reading anymore of Project Superpowers.

The Immortal Iron Fist #27 The Immortal Iron Fist ends its run this week, although it’ll be followed by an Immortal Weapons mini-series, focusing on the Fist’s peer heroes from the other Seven Capital Cities of Heaven. (The preview of the first issue at the end of this issue looks pretty good.)

The series on the whole has been quite entertaining, and the switch from Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction and writers to Duane Swierczynski has barely been noticeable, as the style and quality hardly changed at all. The art has generally been strong, and the book’s strength of exploring the background of the Fist’s mystical city of K’un Lun has been intriguing and often exciting. If I have a criticism, it’s that the characterizations of Fist and his friends has been rather thin, so his personal struggles to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend Misty Knight, retain control of his company, and come to grips with getting older have felt superficial. I guess there’s just been too much stuff to pack into a regular-sized monthly comic to make the characters truly engaging.

(For example, this issue ends with a revelation in the Fist/Misty relationship, which is touching and makes his future a little more intriguing, but it feels like it comes out of left field.

Nonetheless, it’s been a fun ride, and I hope Iron Fist will be back after the interregnum of the mini-series. But if not, well, I’m sure he’ll be back sometime.

Prince Valiant vol 1: 1937-1938 My choice for the greatest comic strip in history would be Hal Foster’s epic adventure strip Prince Valiant. And now Fantagraphics is reprinting the series in a series of spiffy, oversized hardcover collections, with the first volume out this week. And even though I own the whole 40-volume set of the Foster-drawn pages that Fantagraphics published in the 1990s, I’m perfectly happy to buy this new series, with larger pages, better-quality paper, and much better-quality coloring. The first volume covers the first two years, 1937-1938, and while the earliest episodes feel a little primitive by the standards of Foster’s tremendous skills, by the end of 1937 you can clearly see Foster getting his footing and developing into the artistic legend he’s become.

What makes Prince Valiant so great? After all, it’s about a fictional hero from Norway who’s exiled along with his father to the British isles during the age of the equally-fictional King Arthur (circa the 5th century). Val becomes a Knight of the Round Table and embarks on many adventures of varying plausibility, so in the large it sounds like pretty standard stuff.

Well, aside from Foster being one of the greatest pop artists of the 20th century, the story feels like nothing else in graphic storytelling: It’s told in narration rather than in the immediate action-and-dialogue style of comic books, yet it loses none of is impact. Foster conveys action and excitement without many of the conventions of superhero comics. And Val gradually grows up, matures, gets married, and has children during the course of the strip. In this volume he’s a young man of maybe 15 or 16 years of age, full of bluster and passion, yet still finding his place in the world. He’s clever, yet makes mistakes along the way and is often saved through dumb (sometimes tragic) luck. It’s an epic saga a little bit different from anything like it, and Foster’s dedication to his craft makes it better than even the notable stories by his not-inconsiderable peers (Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, etc.).

The next volume is announced for “spring of 2010”, so it looks like we’ll be getting 2 years worth of pages every 9 months or so, which will make for a pretty slow crawl to get to the strip’s apex in the 1950s. I think it will be worth it, though. It’s excellent stuff, and I look forward to enjoying it all over again.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #20, by David Hine, Doug Braithwaite & Bill Reinhold (DC)
  • Top 10: Season Two #3, by Zander Cannon & Gene Ha (DC/America’s Best)
  • Hulk #9, by Jeph Loeb, Arthur Adams & Frank Cho (Marvel)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist #21, by Duane Swierczynski & Timothy Green (Marvel)
  • Thor #12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Oliver Coipel & Mark Morales (Marvel)
  • Gigantic #2 of 5, by Rick Remender & Eric Nguyen (Dark Horse)
  • Mister X: Condemned #1 of 4, by Dean Motter (Dark Horse)
  • The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #2 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
  • Invincible #57, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • The Astounding Wolf-Man #11, by Robert Kirman, Jason Howard & Cliff Rathburn (Image)
  • Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #5, of 5, by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & James Nguyen (Red 5)
Hulk #9 I think this is the end for me for this run of Hulk: Three issues to tell two trivial stories of the green Hulk and the red Hulk is a lot of time wasted, and I’m not sticking around to see if Loeb gets on with it anytime soon. The series started out with a bang, but quickly ran out of gas. It’s doubly disappointing since Greg Pak did such a great job with the Planet Hulk/World War Hulk stories in the previous Hulk series.

Anyway, the two stories wrapping up here are the green Hulk fighting a horde of Wendigo in Las Vegas, and the She-Hulk and a group of female super-heroes fighting the Red Hulk, and getting pwned by him. The Art Adams art on the first story is fun, but the story doesn’t give him any great panels to draw. The Frank Cho artwork on the second is pretty much Frank Cho drawing a whole slew of buxom women in tights, which is pretty much what you’d expect.

At this point I don’t understand why I moved to this book rather than sticking with Greg Pak when the previous series became The Incredible Hercules. Don’t I know that I should stick with creators, not characters? Oh well.

The Immortal Iron Fist #21 The Immortal Iron Fist continues its trend of punctuating its major stories with one-shots about Iron Fists from different eras. This one features the Iron Fist of 3099, who’s sent to save the dying world of Yaochi from its oppressive tyrant. The story’s pretty good, and Timothy Green’s artwork is fantastic: Elegant layouts with lines for shading rather than use of blacks, giving it a little bit of a European look. The final panel, a 2/3-page spread, is terrific. Even if you’re not reading Iron Fist regularly, you might want to check this issue out.
Mister X: Condemned #1 The original Mister X series came out back when I was still pretty much only reading superhero comics, and it was so not a superhero comic. Although it’s been collected, it doesn’t hold up terribly well: The story arc is sketchy and the artwork is erratic.

So what is Mister X? Well, creator/writer/designer Dean Motter has done a trio of comic book series about three cities which all have a retro-futuristic architecture, a mash-up of styles from the 20s to the 50s and what those decades thought the future might look like stylistically. Mister X was the first, Terminal City the second (and the best), and Electropolis the third. Mister X takes place in Radiant City, a dark place whose architecture drives its citizens mad, earning it the nickname Somnopolis. Mister X himself was the designer of the city, now a lone renegade who’s driven to try to fix the city, although he has mixed results.

This second series opens with Radiant City’s leadership hiring demolition companies to take out the more rotten parts of the city, but they’re not entirely in control of what’s happening, and things start going awry, and people get killed. Then, Mister X reappears in the apartment of his old girlfriend, Mercedes, asking for the plans.

Motter isn’t the most versatile artist, but his esthetic and layouts are enough to carry the story, and this issue is a good place to get acquainted with the character. Time will tell if the advances in storytelling that Motter displayed in his later projects carries over to Mister X, but it’s off to a good start.

Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #5 The second Atomic Robo wraps up this week, and the last issue is a bit of a letdown after the first four, with a single-issue adventure to stop the Nazi scientist Skorzeny in 1944. He gets captured and is rescued by a Scotsman with a very heavy accent, who steals the show from Robo in his own comic. It feels so disjointed from the rest of the series that it feels like a throwaway issue, just when the series seemed to be hitting its stride. Oh, well.

It features an epilogue with a later meeting between Robo and Skorzeny, which is better than the main story.

As I said when I reviewed #4, I think better character development is the key to this series taking off. Robo is not much of a character, and the supporting cast is mostly too sketchy. They need to develop a few more characters and make them memorable. Until that happens, the series is just going to feel like a set of vignettes, ultimately not going anywhere.

(For a dissenting opinion, see this review at Major Spoilers.)

This Week’s Haul

  • Fables #76, by Bill Willingham & Michael Allred (DC/Vertigo)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #46, by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul & Livesay (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #4, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (DC/Vertigo)
  • Hulk #6, by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines (Marvel)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Death Queen of California one-shot (Marvel)
  • Nova #17, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Echo #6, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Hellboy: The Crooked Man #3 of 3, by Mike Mignola & Richard Corben (Dark Horse)
  • Project Superpowers #6 of 7, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Carlos Paul (Dynamite)
  • Perhapanauts #4, by Todd Dezago, Craig Rousseau & Jason Armstrong (Image)

A pretty big week, yet I have little to say about most of the books. Sometimes this happens. In many cases the books are just moving their stories forward (interminably so in the case of books like Legion and Hulk). Generally good reading, but neither great enough nor awful enough to prompt a review.

Fables #76 Fables launches into its new era with an issue in which Pinocchio shows Geppetto – the former Emperor who has been granted amnesty – around Fabletown in New York City. Geppetto is outraged at having to live around the little people, while the other inhabitants are outraged that Geppetto has been granted amnesty and allowed to live. Exactly why he was granted amnesty is also explained.

Willingham’s depiction of Geppetto here is, frankly, masterful. Geppetto truly believes that his conquest of the homelands was for the best, trading millions of lives for the welfare of billions, and he holds the fables who opposed him in utter contempt for bringing down his empire, probably throwing it into violent chaos, and refusing to keep their own citizens in line through the use of force. To Geppetto, there’s no hypocrisy in his outlook: The ends justify the means, and the concept of democracy and any freedom other than that allowed by the ruler is useless. Most revealing is his confrontation with Snow White, whom he asks, basically, what he ever did to her to make her oppose him as one of the leaders of the opposition. The fact that he didn’t personally assail her misses the whole point, of course, but he doesn’t see that. He simply has no common ground with which to interact with the other fables. His only ally is Pinocchio, who loves him as his father.

Naturally, the Fabletown leaders are also trying to figure out how they can get more information out of Geppetto, which involves taking down his considerable mystical defenses. How that plays out could be interesting. And we also see progress on other fronts, notably Snow and Bigby’s kids growing up. I always enjoyed the adventures in Fabletown best in this series, and it’d nice to get back to it.

I have mixed feelings about Michael Allred’s art, especially since he draws Pinocchio radically differently from regular artist Mark Buckingham. He does draw a mean Geppetto, and the absence of shading in his figures and backgrounds gives it a distinctive look, but it lacks the dynamism of Buckingham as the figures all look rather stiff.

But the story easily carries the day here. It’s a promising start to the new era.

The Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Death Queen of California The second Iron Fist one-shot featuring Orson Randall, and “golden age” Iron Fist, is a standalone story in which he visits California in 1928. It’s a decent enough pulp yarn somewhat inspired by Weird Tales style horror stories. But I don’t really see the point in it, since it doesn’t seem to tie in to the main series at all. Filling in Orson’s back story in this way doesn’t seem like an effective use of pages, especially since the character met his demise early in the ongoing series (in the present day).

I guess it’s just a bold effort to extract more money from me (and I’m shocked! Shocked! I tell you!). And it seems to have worked in this case. But I’ll be more wary next time.

This Week’s Haul

Hey, it’s the 100th edition of This Week’s Haul! I missed a week here and there (usually due to being away on vacation), but I have been keeping this up for nearly two years – yay me!

  • Booster Gold #12, by Chuck Dixon, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Ex Machina #38, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist: The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven vol 2 TPB, by Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, David Aja, Tonci Zonjic & others (Marvel)
  • The Immortal Iron First: Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death one-shot, by Matt Fraction, Nick Dragotta, Mike Allred, Laura Allred, Russ Heath, Lewis LaRosa, Stefano Gaudiano, Matt Hollingsworth & Mitch Breitwiser (Marvel)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist #15, by Matt Fraction, Khari Evans & Victor Olazaba (Marvel)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist #16, by Matt Fraction, David Aja & Matt Hollingsworth (Marvel)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist #17, by Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman & Russ Heath (Marvel)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist #18, by Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman & Russ Heath (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: The Warning #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Invincible #52, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
The Immortal Iron Fist: The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven vol 2 TPB Last week I read the first volume of The Immortal Iron Fist, and I enjoyed it enough that this week I picked up the second volume, and all of the issues published after that to get caught up on the series. (Boy, remember the days when you’d discover a new series and spend the next two years trying to buy all the earlier issues to get caught up on what had happened? Now you just buy a couple of trade paperbacks and the last few months’ worth of issues and there you go. Ain’t progress great?)

I had some reservations about the first volume, and I’m happy to say that the second volume, The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven is much better all around. The story has two threads:

  1. It tells the story of Daniel Rand’s father Wendell who years ago went through the same trials as Danny did to become the Iron Fist, a quest which cost him the friendship of his best friend Davos, and also showed him to be tortured by his relationship with the previous Iron Fist, Orson Randall, who may or may not have been Wendell’s father.
  2. In the present day, Danny is summoned to the otherdimensional city of K’un Lun, where he became Iron Fist, to fight in a tournament against the immortal champions of six other cities – including Davos, who is now the champion of another city. While doing so, he also learns that there’s a plot afoot from Earth to reach and destroy the city. In trying to stop this plot while not appearing derelict in his duties in the tournament, Danny learns that his predecessors have left some interesting secrets around the city which have some interesting uses.

There’s a lot of good stuff in here: Danny seems less like a naive rookie (one of the biggest problems I had with the first book) and more like a fairly worldly guy who’s just out of his element and being kept off-balance by a variety of challenges that are just not what he’s used to dealing with. Despite being a martial arts master and having spent his teen years in K’un Lun, Danny has always been more of Earth than of that city, so feeling out-of-place during the tournament makes sense.

The stories of Orson Randall and Wendell Rand are both very well done. Randall is the Iron Fist who managed to escape his destiny, and he’s obviously shaping the series despite the fact that he’s no longer among the living. Wendell Rand’s contribution is of having brought Danny to K’un Lun (before meeting his own untimely end) and of having turned Davos into an enemy. Davos’ father is Lei Kung the Thunderer, the mentor to the Iron Fists. The humanizing of this figure is one of the book’s greatest strengths: He’s a hero in his own right, but his uneasy relationship with his son makes him seem more vulnerable. Davos is maybe the most interesting character in the book, having become much more nuanced than his one-note villainous persona in the early Iron Fist stories of the 70s.

The volume has a nifty showdown between all sides with a lot of good action and satisfying resolutions, as well as setting up some potential storylines for the following issues. Well worth a read.

(By the way, the flashback sequences featuring Orson Randall are based on the style of 30s and 40s pulp adventures. In addition to the contrast in styles, there’s an issue where Danny meets with Orson’s former associates, who are now elderly people, and that sequence is drawn by Howard Chaykin, who produced The Shadow: Blood and Judgment mini-series in the 1980s, which similarly portrayed the former associates of the Shadow encountering him again in the present day. A nice little in-joke.)

Following this story, it looks like Brubaker, Fraction and Aja left the title, and that writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Travel Foreman are the new creators (with Russ Heath illustrating the scenes taking place in the past). After a last story by Fraction, the new story starts like this: On the eve of his 33rd birthday, Danny learns that every previous Iron Fist – save for Orson Randall – died at the age of 33. Issue #18 starts with one of those annoying “flash-forwards” to the future where one of the characters is reminiscing about how Iron Fist died; it’s a gimmick which is going to be cheesy at best, because Fist can’t really die and make a satisfying story, but having him live is going to feel like a cheat. I’d rather the story stayed in the present (and past) to show how Danny cheats his presumptive fate. But other than that it’s off to a rather gripping start, with Fist facing an enemy that’s too much for him and relying on his friends to bail him out. The presence of the other immortal weapons hasn’t been forgotten, so this could shape up to be quite a fight.

The series overall is based around the themes of responsibility and destiny, and about the degree to which the Iron Fists meet both standards. It’s got some flaws, but it’s still enjoyable. The series sales seem to be fairly stable, so hopefully it’ll be around for a while.

This Week’s Haul

Fables #75 Fables #75 is reportedly the story with which Bill Willingham planned to end the series; instead he’s decided to wrap up the war against the Adversary and take the series in a new, post-war direction. So here we see the conclusion of Fabletown’s plan to defeat the Empire’s forces, Bigby Wolf battling the Emperor directly, and the denouement of the Adversary’s defeat. As usual there are some twists along the way.

One of the problem with series based on war is that the series can never be satisfying unless the war comes to a conclusion, yet writers often seem torn between taking the series in one of two unsatisfying directions: Either they drag the war out forever until the series is cancelled (and then it either never wraps up, or wraps up too abruptly), or they decide they really just want to write the end of the war (and they get there too quickly and the war wraps up too abruptly). One of the great things about Fables has been that the story has developed naturally and at a reasonable pace, with the fight against the Adversary making steady progress while still considering the premise from many different angles. It’s been a terrific ride.

Despite that, well, the war still feels like it wraps up too abruptly in this issue, despite its extra length. I think it’s that the story has too many brief snapshots of the multifaceted battle that’s going on, and then much of the denouement gets jammed in at the end. I think the story would have benefitted from just one more issue to work through the events depicted here, and to work through more of the character bits.

Nonetheless, I think Wllingham deserves a lot of credit for executing this story so well, and despite my kvetch above, he avoids the worst problems of wrapping up war stories: The resolution feels natural, like the execution of plans and the reasonable implications thereof that it is. And it’s got the terrific artwork by Buckingham and Leialoha that has served the series so well all along. Arguably I’m just a little too picky in what I was hoping for from the story’s climax, and I imagine most fans will feel I’m splitting hairs. To which I say: Fair enough.

No matter how you slice it, Fables has been one of the great success stories in mainstream comics today, and I’m delighted that this isn’t the end of it. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where it goes from here. I have faith that Willingham has lots of good stuff up his sleeve.

The Immortal Iron Fist: The Last Iron Fist Story vol 1 TPB A lot of people love the writing of Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, and I’ve read little of the former’s work and none of the latter’s. And The Immortal Iron Fist has generally been getting good reviews, too. On top of that, I was a big fan of earlier incarnations of the character, especially Chris Claremont & John Byrne’s from the 70s, and Jim Owsley and Mark Bright’s from the 80s. So with volume 2 of this current series having hit the stands this week, I decided to pick up volume 1 and see what I thought.

And the answer is: It’s pretty darned good. Daniel Rand, our hero, has inherited his father’s multinational company, but he’s more interested in superheroing. Consequently a Chinese company initiates a hostile takeover of the company. But of course the aggressors are largely a front for an old enemy of Iron Fist’s to get back at his enemy. The twist is that Danny isn’t the first Iron Fist – not by a longshot – and he’s not the only one active today, either. There’s a lot about his history he doesn’t know, and now he gets to find out about it.

Expanding the scope of Iron Fist’s background is certainly welcome, and a great wrinkle to the character. Less welcome is treating Danny like he’s an ignorant kid, which happens frequently in the story. While Danny’s always had trouble maintaining the inner calm he should have – that’s at the heart of the character – he’s been portrayed as a mature character in the past, and being patronized and acting immature as he often does here just feels out of character. But he does have some fine moments, especially at the end when he’s confronted with a typical Fistian dilemma of having to make a sacrifice to live up to his responsibilities as the living weapon of K’un Lun.

David Aja’s art is pretty good, although I find it to be a little muddy in its use of shadows, not unlike Jae Lee’s art. He does better with the establishing shots (especially of the terrific abandoned underground train station Danny visits, a setting I thought was greatly underutilized in the story) and character dialogue scenes than he does in the action sequences. I wonder if a more traditional style of inking would bring out the best in Aja’s pencils at both ends of the spectrum.

Overall I enjoyed this book a lot, and I’m going to pick up the second volume next week. I’m hoping Danny will come off a little better as the story goes on, but I’m more interested to see where Danny fits in to the history of the Iron Fist, as there’s a lot of potential in that angle.

Rex Libris: I, Librarian vol 1 TPB Every so often I buy a comic which is, by my lights, pretty far out there: It’s highly stylized, or it’s got a weird narrative structure, or it has a backdrop which doesn’t make sense and isn’t supposed to make sense. For instance, the series Strange Attractors which ran for a while back in the 90s featuring an adventuress who finds that her favorite fictional heroes aren’t so fictional. Sometimes these series work for me, sometimes they don’t; that’s the thing about experimental comics: You never know what you’re going to get. In my experience such comics are rarely great, and otherwise range from pretty good to poor.

Rex Libris is one of these comics: The titular hero is a librarian at a library on Earth, but one who has to deal with supernatural and science fictional characters bedeviling him, and he works for the Egyptian god Thoth. Deeply devoted to the needs of library patrons, he also travels far afield to deal with unreturned books. And he’s a black-suited, tough-talking, square-jawed hero type surrounded by various weird characters, such as a megalomaniacal telekinetic talking bird.

Drawn on a computer by James Turner, Rex Libris is goofy and action-packed, but I found it to be total fluff: The narrative is silly and nothing but, and the story doesn’t really go anywhere. And I guess that’s the point, just a bunch of fun, but I thought it was too lightweight, without anything to grab onto to really care about. It was a cute gag for one chapter, but it quickly felt repetitive as this collection (of the first 5 issues of the series) went on, and the overall level of humor was pretty middling: A chuckle here and there, but nothing that made me laugh out loud. The art is highly stylized and had a very stiff feel, which again I think is part of the point, a few steps beyond the modernist looks of Dean Motter‘s comics or Chassis, but it’s not at all the sort of style I’m into.

So, not really my cup of tea, though I know that others like it (such as Greg Burgas over at Comics Should Be Good). But if you enjoy unorthodox comic series, this might be for you.