This Week’s Haul

  • Action Comics #894, by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #44, by Marc Guggenheim & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #28, by Matt Wagner & Marian Churchland (DC/Vertigo)
  • Time Masters: Vanishing Point #4 of 6, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Wonder Woman #604, by J. Michael Straczynski, Don Kramer, Eduardo Pansica & Jay Leisten (DC)
  • Zatanna #6, by Paul Dini & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Captain America #611, by Ed Brubaker & Daniel Acuña (Marvel)
  • Fantastic Four #584, by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • Incognito: Bad Influences #1 of 6, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Incorruptible #11, by Mark Waid & Marcio Takara (Boom)
  • Hellboy/Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice #1, by Evan Dorkin, Mike Mignola & Jill Thompson (Dark Horse)
  • Dynamo 5: Sins of the Father #5 of 5, by Jat Faerber & Júlio Brilha (Image Comics)
This month’s Action Comics has gotten a lot of press because it features a rare appearance by a Neil Gaiman character – in this case, Death – in a mainstream DC Universe title. Word is that Gaiman helped script her appearance, although oddly the character doesn’t really “feel” like the Death from Gaiman’s Sandman: She feels a little too much like a teenager, and a little too vague and mysterious than the character we’ve seen before. Yes yes, the whole joke about Death is that she’s a cheerful teenage girl doing this somewhat melancholy job, but the point is that it feels like her portrayal here misses the mark. Whether or not Gaiman wrote her, it feels like someone else. Not that what we have here is unlikeable, it just feels off.

Though Pete Woods does do a boffo job of drawing her.

What of the story itself? Lex Luthor has become so hard-headed these days that it’s basically a case of his irresistible force meeting Death’s immovable object – and she prevails, of course. It’s entertaining, but unfortunately the illumination it shines on Luthor’s character is that he’s pretty one-dimensional these days: Rather than the monomania about Superman that the silver age Luthor had, now he’s got a monomania about acquiring power. It’s unfortunate because it makes me a little more pessimistic that Luthor can really carry the title for much longer, unless Paul Cornell makes him a more nuanced figure.

Speaking of books I’m pessimistic about, the new JSA creative team arrives this month, and the results are not pretty.

I must admit I’m not really a fan of Scott Kolins’ art style these days: The overuse of gray tones, mixed with the painterly coloring job that accompanies it just feels overly rendered for the fairly straightforward books he’s illustrated. Honestly I liked the work he did on his run on The Flash with Geoff Johns a decade a ago better: Stylized, but with more interesting linework.

Marc Guggenheim’s story, for me, got a reaction of, “What, this again?” Jay Garrick – the original Flash – is considering retirement, to become mayor of a small city. An immensely powerful individual shows up to threaten that city, kicks the JSA’s ass until they get it together to put him down, but the victory is pyrrhic. The downer tone continues the feeling that Bill Willingham brought to the book, and I didn’t think it worked then, either. And it seems like we’re constantly seeing the golden age JSAers consider retiring, or coming out of retirement, or whatever. The whole issue felt tremendously manipulative and it was difficult to care about any of it, because it felt like the writer didn’t really understand or care about the characters.

Honestly I’m not sure why I’m even buying the book these days, as the team has really not been worth much since most of the golden age members were killed off in the 90s. It’s a sad thing when Geoff Johns’ run on the book looks like the good old days, because they really weren’t much good. With half a year left until issue #50, I’ll likely stick around that long to see if Guggenheim has something interesting planned for the landmark, but I think that’ll be it for me.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips bring us the first issue of the sequel to Incognito, a series I struggled enjoying at first, but which won me over completely in the final issue. This issue takes a step back from that last issue, being perhaps a little too cynical. It also feels like it’s treading on ground Brubaker previously covered in his outstanding series Sleeper (also with Phillips).

So that’s all a little disappointing, but Brubaker is too good a writer to let that keep him down: Zack Overkill is still trying to figure out his purpose in life now that he knows where he came from, and now that he’s working for a superspy-type organization. He has a tragic encounter from a figure from his past (well, not quite his past, but, well, you’ll see), and then gets assigned to infiltrate a villainous organization.

Incognito has struggled to make Zack someone the viewer can really feel for, but it mostly makes up for it in action, suspense, and clever plots. It’s probably the weakest of the Brubaker/Phillips books because of this character deficit, but it’s still quite good and decidedly different from most other superhero comics. If you enjoy a little pulp and noir in your action stories, check it out.

This Week’s Haul

  • Action Comics #893, by Paul Cornell, Sean Chen & Wayne Faucher, and Nick Spencer & RB Silva (DC)
  • First Wave #4 of 6, by Brian Azzarello, Rags Morales & Rick Bryant (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #43, by James Robinson, Jesus Merino & Jesse Delperdang (DC)
  • Time Masters: Vanishing Point #3 of 6, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Wonder Woman #603, by J. Michael Straczynski, Don Kramer, Eduardo Pansica, Allan Goldman, Jay Leisten & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Captain America #610, by Ed Brubaker, Butch Guice & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Casanova #3, by Matt Fraction & Gabriel Bá (Marvel/Icon)
  • Powers #6, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • Chew #14, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
In Action Comics Lex Luthor outthinks Gorilla Grodd, but later events set up next issue’s much-heralded story with Death from Sandman appearing in the DC Universe. Of more significance (to my mind) is that the fill-in artist is Sean Chen, whose work I’ve enjoyed ever since he illustrated Kurt Busiek’s Iron Man series a decade ago. Unfortunately he hasn’t regularly drawn a comic since then, so we only see him for a few issues at a time.

The back-up story has gotten some advance press because it introduces Chloe Sullivan (from Smallville) into the DCU, as a rather grumpy ex-girlfriend of Jimmy Olsen. Jimmy’s now being portrayed as something of a slacker, compared to more successful members of his generation, and his friendship with Superman being a bit overblown. It’s rather the opposite of what Grant Morrison did with the character in All-Star Superman, and though I give Morrison a hard time these days, I much prefer his take on Olsen. So the story is actually rather depressing, and the sudden reverse at the end (in which Jimmy seems a bit more heroic, albeit contingent on him actually doing something) just makes it seem ridiculous on top of that. One wonders what the point of this exercise is – I’d rather see Cornell write a companion story to the lead, as I’m sure he’s got plenty of ideas in his head. But this Olson story is not really much fun, so why bother?

This Week’s Haul

In addition to the usual roundup, note that the second of Fantagraphics’ hardcover collections of Prince Valiant came out this week. These are really lovely collections, a big upgrade on their softcover collections of the 90s, and well worth it for anyone who’s a fan of Hal Foster’s lovely artwork.

  • Action Comics #890, by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods (DC)
  • Batman Beyond #1 of 6, by Adam Beechen, Ryan Benjamin & John Stanisci (DC)
  • The Flash #3, by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul (DC)
  • Green Lantern #55, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Justice League of America #46, by James Robinson, Mark Bagley, Rob Hunter & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #40, by Bill Willingham, Jesus Merino & Jesse Delperdang (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #24, by Matt Wagner & Marley Zarcone (DC/Vertigo)
  • Wonder Woman #600, by Gail Simone, George Pérez & Scott Koblish, Amanda Conner, Louise Simonson, Eduardo Pansica & Bob Wiacek, Geoff Johns & Scott Kolins, and J. Michael Straczynski, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • Astonishing X-Men #34, by Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning (Marvel)
  • Captain America #607, by Ed Brubaker, Mitch Breitweiser & Jackson Guice (Marvel)
  • Prince Valiant vol 2 1939-1940 HC, by Hal Foster (Fantagraphics)
  • Invincible #73, by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley & Cliff Rathburn (Image)
  • Ghost Projekt #3 of 5, by Joe Harris & Steve Rolston (Oni)
  • Atomic Robo and the Curse of the Vampire Dimension #4 of 4, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
Paul Cornell’s had an interesting career: Doctor Who episodes, science fiction novels, and now comic books, following up on his Captain Britain and MI-13 series for Marvel (which I haven’t read) with the beginning of a run on Action Comics. With J. Michael Straczynski monopolizing Superman in his own title, though, Cornell is focusing on Lex Luthor here in Action.

Writing a story starring a bad guy can be hard, and Lex is about as bad as they come: He’s evolved from a brilliant, hateful, and emotional villain to a brilliant, hateful, code-and-calculating villain, who keeps his emotions bottled up, making his crimes (and moral lapses) all the more creepy. Cornell pulls off all this creepiness quite well, and even has a tricky little subplot involving Lois Lane witnessing Lex’s crimes. Lex’s motivation here is that he tasted the power of a power ring (the orange ring in Blackest Night) and he’s trying to figure out a way to get it back by researching the power of the vanished black rings. Lex always has ambitions a little higher and darker than anyone else in the DC universe.

If there’s a downside to this issue it’s the reveal on the last page, which feels like an awkward shift into a different storyline than where the issue started. But Cornell might just be taking the story in a different direction than it first appeared. But overall his first issue is pretty nifty, so I’m looking forward to see where Cornell’s going with it.

Oh, and Pete Woods’ art is terrific. Similar to that of Gary Frank back before Frank went ulta-realistic (and mostly stopped drawing backgrounds) with a hint of Tony Harris, he has a strong design and composition sense and clean linework. I’m not sure if I’ve seen his stuff before, but I like it a lot.

For some reason DC has decided to revive the Batman Beyond franchise, which was primarily an animated series, and one which ended nearly ten years ago. Is the trademark about to expire or something? Well, after a Superman/Batman annual featuring the character a few weeks ago (written by Paul Levitz, it was pretty routine stuff), now there’s a 6-issue mini-series written by Adam Beechen (whose work I really only know from his – pretty good – Countdown to Adventure series a few years ago) and drawn by Ryan Benjamin and John Stanisci (neither of whom I’m familiar with).

The story is a straight follow-up to the cartoon series, with characters such as Amanda Waller filling roles different from those in comic books. The story involves someone escaping from a high-tech laboratory and apparently killing the original Batman’s enemies. His successor, Terry McGinnis, tries to head him off, when he and Bruce Wayne find out what’s happening, and the issue ends with the revelation of the villain’s identity, indicating that a comic book villain is moving into the animated world. It works pretty well as a first issue, and is certainly enough that I’ll pick up the rest of the series.

Seeing the animated characters drawn in a more realistic, comic book-like style is kind of weird; sometimes Benjamin manages to pull off the expressions that really make the characters who they are on the small screen, but other times they seem like someone else, actors playing the characters. It’s not entirely successful; look at the cover, for example, where McGinnis’ Batman has more muscle and definition than he ever had in the cartoon. I’m not sure what aesthetic they’re really going for here. It’s a good-looking book, but there’s a certain cognitive dissonance to it that makes it difficult for me to fully buy into it being a sequel to the cartoon.

Wonder Woman #600 is another anthology issue with pin-ups, like Superman #700 was last week, which makes it feel rather less special as an anniversary issue. Unsurprisingly the best story in it is the one written by Gail Simone and drawn by the always-amazing George Pérez, even though the premise is yet another “let’s come up with a silly excuse for having every female superhero embark on an adventure together, without any of the men”. What really sells it, though, is that afterwards Diana heads out for the graduation of one of the supporting characters of her series when she was re-imagined by Pérez 20 years ago. Given that this issue is also re-imagining the character in a later story, this is a fine and touching coda to Wonder Woman’s current incarnation. (Pérez also draws a fantastic two-page poster with characters from throughout this run, almost worth the price of admission all by itself.)

Amanda Conner writers and draws a short piece with Wonder Woman and Power Girl, which feels a little under-rendered for her usual work, and which is a cute little personal piece about PG’s home life. Louise Simonson writes a third story guest-starring Superman which is a straight adventure story (the art is by Eduardo Pansica whom I’m not familiar with, but it looks pretty nice; inker Bob Wiacek looks like he had a strong influence on it, though). Then Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins write the lead-in to J. Michael Straczynski’s re-imagining, in which the character is apparently broken down and reappears in her new guise, with a new backstory.

The story is a fairly light lead-in to Straczynski’s run on the character, but is much better than his rather awful debut on Superman last week: Wonder Woman is now apparently a refugee from Paradise Island, along with the surviving Amazons, and it’s not clear who killed most of the Amazons or why, but apparently he’s still hunting her.

The problem with the story is not that it’s bad, but that it doesn’t feel like Wonder Woman. It made sense when Tangent Comics turned characters completely on their head, but this Wonder Woman has so little connection to her past incarnations that I wonder why they even bothered. I like the theory at The Beat that “a lot of this seems to be a reboot aimed at getting a Wonder Woman movie closer to being made – actresses didn’t seem so thrilled about running around in a glorified swimsuit”. Which brings us to the new costume, which has engendered plenty of controversy. I don’t think it’s awful, although going from one largely-nonfunctional costume to another one seems rather silly (those tiny little jackets look pretty silly whenever I see anyone wearing one, and I’ve got to think that that V-shaped belt is going to hurt whenever she bends over).

The costume is really just a visual indication of what I said about Straczynski’s comics writing last week: He goes so far out trying to do something new with the character that he loses (or shows that he never understood) what defined that character in the first place. To be sure, where Wonder Woman is concerned the definition has always been a little sketchy (considering her the third leg of DC’s top “trinity” of characters has always seemed rather silly, since she’s nowhere near as iconic as Superman or Batman; her powers are essentially that of a female Superman, and her character has been pulled in so many directions that it’s difficult to define who she is or what she stands for), but whatever she is, I don’t think this is it.

Still, the story seems decent enough, which could make it a good read where Straczynski’s Superman looks like a disaster out of the gate. And while Don Kramer is no George Pérez in the art department, well, who is? So color my guardedly optimistic.

This month’s Invincible is an interesting one for readers like me who appreciate unorthodox story structures: The main characters are entirely off-stage while the primary storyline (the war against the Viltrumites, the conquering race of supermen that Invincible’s father hails from) goes on. But the story itself – told in a series of vignettes – focuses mainly on Invincible’s father Omni-Man and his brother Oliver, who get to know each other while Invincible recovers from near-fatal injuries. Meanwhile, their allies think they’ve been killed, and the war begins without them. We see glimpses of how the war is going (sometimes well, sometimes poorly), but the focus is on the two men. It’s effective without being cloying, has Robert Kirkman’s trademark (and slightly twisted and grotesque) sense of humor, and feels like a calm before the storm without feeling like a wasted issue.

All-in-all it shows what a versatile writer Kirkman is. It seems like every issue of Invincible is a little journey off the beaten path of standard superhero comics. That’s probably what makes it such a good series.

(By the way, here’s something neat: Ryan Ottley’s cover for the issue in pencils, pencils and inks, and in final colored form.)