This Week’s Haul

A huge week this week, the most expensive I can recall in recent memory. (Okay, I bought some Magic cards, too, since my Worldwake booster boxes haven’t arrived yet.) Two hardcovers, two paperbacks, and a goodly set of books.

  • Green Lantern #51, by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke (DC)
  • Green Lantern Corps #45, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Keith Champagne & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • Power Girl #9, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • The Starman Omnibus vol 4 HC, by James Robinson, Jerry Ordway, Tony Harris,Peter Krause, Mike Mignola, Gary Erskine, Matt Smith, Mike Mayhew, Gene Ha, Wade Von Grawbadger, Dick Giordano & others (DC)
  • Fantastic Four: In Search of Galactus HC, by Marv Wolfman, Keith Pollard, John Buyne, Sal Buscema & Joe Sinnott (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #23, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wed Craig & Serge LaPointe (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #141, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
  • Marvels: Eye of the Camera #6 of 6, by Kurt Busiek, Roger Stern & Jay Anacleto (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #3, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
  • Star Trek: Romulans: Pawns of War TPB, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • Invincible #70, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Jack Staff: Rocky Realities vol 4 TPB, by Paul Grist (Image)
  • Atomic Robo: Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #1 of 4, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
After a long delay, the final issue of Marvels: Eye of the Camera is out this week. My adoration of Kurt Busiek‘s writing knows few bounds, but this is not one of his best series. It follows the protagonist of the first series, Daily Bugle photographer Phil Sheldon, after he learns that he has cancer, and his life in the 1970s and 80s as he watches the Marvel universe develop around him. But rather than being an everyman’s chronicle of key points in the development of Marvel’s world, it’s a rather glum, somewhat sentimental portrayal of Phil coming to grips with the end of his life. And where the first Marvels spotlighted some of the truly great moments of early Marvel comics, few of the scenes depicted in Eye of the Camera measure up. This final issue shows a fight between the X-Men and… someone, a story I dimly remember as it was published around the time I decided X-Men had become unreadable and I dropped it, but compared to the Human Torch vs. the Sub-Mariner, or the Fantastic Four vs. Galactus, it’s an almost comically trivial encounter.

The best stuff in the series really does feature Sheldon, particular in this issue when the mutant Maggie, who as a girl hid out in the Sheldons’ baseman, returns to visit Phil on his deathbed, and they reminisce about that, and Phil puts a big chunk of his life into perspective.

But on the other hand, in a world in which characters survive and barely age for decades, it’s especially sad to see a likable, practically heroic, man like Phil die quietly like he does, and be buried in the ground like anyone else while superheroes fly overhead. As a writer himself (Phil is a writer as well as a photographer), and given his medical history over the last decade, I’m sure Busiek is putting some of his own thoughts and feelings down in this story. It’s not that it doesn’t work at all, but despite Phil’s attempts to put a brave face on his last moments and his legacy, it ends up feeling like too little, not rewarding enough for Phil or for us reading about him.

Jay Anacleto is no Alex Ross, and his figures and expressions often feel a little stiff, and too understated. And where Ross brought a surprising degree of verisimilitude to the superhero sequences he painted, Anacleto can’t duplicate the feat here.

Overall I was disappointed in Eye of the Camera, feeling that the sense of wonder that drove the first Marvels series to be mostly missing, and not really being compelled by the personal drama that was driving the story. I imagine people who read character drama-driven independent comics would get more out of the book than I did, but then people who read those comics are not very likely to pick up a Marvel title.

It’s time for another plug of the lovely Starman omnibus hardcovers that DC is publishing. The series was not entirely collected in paperback, and it’s neat to be able to read the whole thing, including a lot of ancillary material, in this oversized package.

The run is reaching the end of its heyday, as Tony Harris didn’t last a lot beyond this point (we’re up to issue #46 with this volume), and Peter Snejbjerg is a decent artist but he doesn’t have anywhere near the range or rendering awesomeness of Harris. This volume collects the crossover with The Power of SHAZAM, which was a lot of fun as an example of how a non-mainstream series can interact with a completely mainstream one, as well as the excellent Starman 80-Page Giant which featured a story with each Starman character up to that point, including the mysterious Starman of 1951. Plus they collect the Batman/Starman/Hellboy mini-series, which I’d completely forgotten about. Finally, they set things up for the next major story arc, in which Jack Knight goes into outer space to find his girlfriend’s missing brother.

I’d thought the omnibus series was intended to be 6 volumes, but with another 34 issues to go, I bet it’ll be 7 or 8 instead, especially if they include – for instance, the first arc of JSA, in which Jack Knight appeared in a supporting role (as James Robinson helped launch that series). Regardless, I’ll be very happy to have this whole set on my shelf.

Another excellent hardcover collection of a great Marvel Comics story from my childhood. Back in the early 1970s, after first Jack Kirby and then Stan Lee had left the Fantastic Four, the book really suffered creatively. In the late 70s, Marv Wolfman took over writing and editing the book and produced a memorable run full of action, adventure, and character drama – really, bringing it back to the roots that Lee and Kirby had brought up. This era is largely forgotten for two reasons: First, because John Byrne’s later run – actually only about a year and a half later – has been so acclaimed that it’s utterly eclipsed Wolfman’s run. Second, because Wolfman’s run was awkwardly aborted; I’m not sure why, but I suspect it had to do with personality clashes when Jim Shooter became editor-in-chief of Marvel (both Wolfman and longtime Marvel veteran Roy Thomas jumped to DC around that time). Wolfman had spent his two years on the title setting up some long-term plot threads, the most major of which was somewhat abruptly wrapped up after Wolfman left, and another of which – really just a moment of foreshadowing – was dealt with two years later by Byrne. It’s too bad, because I’d have liked to see Wolfman have the chance to build a legacy on the FF similar to that of Lee and Kirby. On the other hand, his departure not only opened the door for Byrne’s run (which is quite good), but also meant Wolfman could write The New Teen Titans, which is, frankly, even better.

This collection is a terrific outer-space odyssey in which Xandar – home of the Nova Corps – recruits the FF to help defend them against a Skrull armada. The FF are captured and sentenced to death – via a ray which will cause them to age to that point in just 3 days. Meanwhile, one of Xandar’s allies, the Sphinx, unlocks the power of his mystical gemstone and goes insane, displaying a cosmic level of power, and returning to Earth planning to reshape his homeworld. The FF are forced into a faustian bargain with Galactus to have the world-eater stop the Sphinx, after which all they have to do is find a way to stop Galactus and save themselves from the ravages of accelerated time.

Wolfman tells as good an adventure story as you’d have found in comics of the day, certainly the equal of what Chris Claremont and Byrne were doing on X-Men, and with art by Byrne, Keith Pollard, and longtime FF inker Joe Sinnott. If you’re a fan of any era of the FF, check this one out, because it’s really good. The current series by Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham doesn’t really compare, even though it’s not bad by any means.

John Byrne’s Romulans comics get collected this month. His Star Trek comics for IDW (other than Assignment: Earth) are in my mind the best Trek comics I’ve seen since Mike W. Barr and Tom Sutton’s run for DC: He’s got the classic Trek look down, and he’s playing around in the backwaters of the universe while still telling recognizably Trek stories.

This collection is an arc which comes out of the classic episode Balance of Terror (one chapter of the book tells that story from the point of view of the Romulan commander, memorably played by Mark Lenard), and involves the Klingon/Romulan alliance, heavily based around the Klingons trying to manipulate the Romulans to get around the Organian peace treaty. It’s a pretty good story overall, although it has a disappointing ending (the Organians show up and, well, that’s it for the conflict), and when most of the major characters are anti-heroes or villains, well, it’s hard to root for anyone. Still, good stuff. I hope Byrne has more Star Trek stories in the pipeline, because I’d read ’em.

This Week’s Haul

  • Green Lantern #38, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #24, by Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #8, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (DC/Vertigo)
  • The Starman Omnibus vol 2 of 6 HC, by James Robins, Tony Harris, Wade Von Grawbadger, Craig Hamilton, John Watkiss, Steve Yeowell & others (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #125 & 126, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Salva Espin, Clayton Henry, Rodney Buchemi, Greg Adams & Takeshi Miyazawa (Marvel)
  • Marvels: Eye of the Camera #4 of 6, by Kurt Busiek & Jay Anacleto (Marvel)
  • Nova #22, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea Divito (Marvel)
  • Gigantic #3 of 5, by Rick Remender & Eric Nguyen (Dark Horse)
  • Mister X: Condemned #3 of 4, by Dean Motter (Dark Horse)
  • The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #4 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
  • The Complete Peanuts: 1971-1972, by Charles M. Schultz (Fantagraphics)
Starman Omnibus vol 2 Man do I ever appreciate DC publishing James Robinson’s Starman in this nice hardcover omnibus series. Not only does it collect some issues which weren’t in the trade paperbacks, but it collects some odds-and-ends stories from other titles which I’ve never read at all! There are two Shade stories here which I’d never read before, one of which is actually relevant to later events in the series.

This particular volume has both one of my least-favorite stories in the series (Jack Knight and the Shade face a demon on the other side of a magical painting), but it also contains my hands-down favorite story, in which Jack meets Wes Dodds, the original Sandman – now a man in his 80s – and they investigate a series of murders. The story is sort of a sequel to Matt Wagner’s Sandman Mystery Theatre, and explores the relationships that heroes have to one another, the camaraderie which leads to a sort of friendship where a friendship wouldn’t otherwise exist. It’s also one of the most blatant examples of generational relationships in superhero comics, as Dodds is clearly at least one generation, if not two, removed from Jack Knight. (I don’t think it’s ever clearly stated, but I think Jack is himself in his 30s, rather old for a superhero, especially a novice one.)

There are many good standalone stories in here, too: The original Starman’s first battle with The Mist (which leads into the Sandman/Starman story), and “The Return of Bobo”, in which a small-time villain gets out of jail and returns to Opal City, to the worry of the police and Jack Knight. Bobo is one of the series’ best characters, as is immediately evident from this story. But Starman is similar to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman in that the standalone stories build up the background of the series and eventually contribute important pieces to the characters and ongoing storyline. And even if not every detail is crucial, most stories are enjoyable on their own.

James Robinson is sorely missed in comics – at least by me; these days I think he mainly works in Hollywood. But this volume of Starman reminds me that he really was one of the most sophisticated writers in the business. In some ways the best is yet to come, but in many ways the best is right here in this book.

Marvels: Eye of the Camera #4 I’ve been disappointed in Marvels: Eye of the Camera so far, and I think I know why: The strong character arc of the original Marvels, and the strong sense of time and place of each issue of that series, is missing here. Eye feels like it’s one brief glimpse of 1970s and 80s Marvel after another, without the depth that gives the glimpses meaning. Granted, the period covered so far is mostly not an iconic period in Marvel’s publishing history (the Claremont/Byrne X-Men aside), but I still think it would have been a much better series if it had been pared down to fewer incidents.

This issue primarily focuses on the wake of the Secret Wars series, especially the second one, in which the godlike Beyonder comes to Earth and trails destruction in his wake. It’s okay, but it still feels like a series of vignettes. It’s loosely connected by Phil Sheldon’s ongoing battle with cancer, but the series just isn’t working for me.

There’s still time for Busiek to pull it off, but it’s been a rather haphazard story so far.

Gigantic #3 Greg Burgas wonders why Gigantic isn’t a better comic book. I think the answer’s pretty simple: While it’s a high-concept action story (“The Earth’s just a setting for alien reality TV programming”), it’s really a very depressing one. The lead character is a man who was turned into a gladiator for the aliens when he was younger, and has come back to his homeworld a hunted man. Catastrophe, tragedy and a whole lot of punching ensues. The first three issues haven’t really expanded on the premise very much, it’s continued to just be a lot of tragedy and punching with no light visible at the end of the tunnel. I have a similar problem with the other Remender series I’m reading, The End League. I can deal with dark comics series, but these aren’t just dark, they’re bleak. So they’re not much fun.

For a much better take on a very similar premise, try Dan Vado’s The Griffin. While the art in that one is a little iffy, the story is first-rate. If you can find the original DC Comics prestige-format mini-series (6 issues), that’s even better, since the SLG collection is in black-and-white.

This Week’s Haul

  • Justice Society of America #21, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Jerry Ordway, Bob Wiacek & Nathan Massengill (DC)
  • Terra #3 of 4, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist #20, by Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman & Russ Heath (Marvel)
  • Astonishing X-Men vol 2 HC, by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday (Marvel)
  • Marvels: Eye of the Camera #1 of 6, by Kurt Busiek & Jay Anacleto (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 by David Petersen (Archaia)
  • Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #1 of 8, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #25, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
Astonishing X-Men vol 2 HC I’m not a fan of Joss Whedon. I never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I watched about five episodes of Firefly and though it was awful. I am, however, a big fan of John Cassaday, so I was willing to pick up Astonishing X-Men in collected form to see what it was like.

Whedon’s comics writing reminds me of that of Kevin Smith: Smith’s first series, Daredevil: Guardian Devil felt like a rerun of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again, and in the same vein, Whedon & Cassaday’s X-Men run feels a lot like Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run. The difference among all these books is that Born Again is one of the all-time great graphic novels, while the rest are fairly derivative works, which means that Whedon’s script feels even more like a “we’ve seen this all before” story than the others, since Morrison’s run was nothing special.

On the other hand, Whedon’s scripts are a hell of a lot funnier than Morrison’s.

This volume starts with Emma Frost being recruited to take down the X-Men by the Hellfire Club, a story which ties back to Morrison’s Cassandra Nova story. This first arc (there are two in this volume) has its tense moments, but when I got to the conclusion I couldn’t figure out what had happened. It felt like Whedon had set things up for a comeback by Cassandra Nova, a vicious powerful telepath, but it doesn’t quite happen, and it’s not clear that the X-Men actually won, either.

The second arc ties together the stories from the first volume: An alien planet named the Breakworld has a prophecy that Colossus will destroy their world, and the X-Men, along with a half-alien special agent named Brand, travel there to hopefully stop it from happening, but in any event stop the Breakworld from sending assassins after them. This story involves the characters breaking up into teams and then running back and forth an awful lot until they have to stop a giant missile aimed at the Earth from destroying it.

While there are many amusing and entertaining scenes in the story, honestly I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on. Why was the Breakworld significant? Why should the prophecy have existed in the first place? Why was there a giant missile aimed at the Earth? It felt highly contrived; my only guess is that the Breakworld and its situation have appeared in X-Men stories before, but geez, I could really care less about all that. The core of the story felt contrived and nonsensical, which undercut its reason for being. It had a big, loud conclusion, as you’d expect, but a deeply bittersweet ending, which unfortunately felt basically out of place, with no lessons learned as a result of it and not enough attention paid to its impact on the characters.

Whedon does do some interesting stuff with the relationship between Cyclops and Emma, and Colossus and Shadowcat, and the Beast and Agent Brand. (Wolverine seems to be present mainly to boost sales and make smart remarks.) And as I said the script is often quite funny. But it feels like too slight a story, a little too pretentious, not to mention portentious.

On the other hand, Cassaday’s artwork is superb, full of shadows and bright colors and dramatic poses and expressions. His backgrounds are sometimes on the thin side (a problem he’s always had, even at his best), but he is still a very good artist, and his work is shown off to good effect in the oversized pages of this hardcover collection.

Nonetheless, this volume and its predecessor are really for serious X-Men fans only.

And Whedon fans too, I guess.

Marvels: Eye of the Camera #1 Marvels was essentially the book that launched Alex Ross’ career, and made Kurt Busiek a big name in the industry. It’s certainly one of the finest comics series of the last 20 years, and since then Busiek has demonstrated that the core genius of the book – depicting a world of superheroes through the eyes of the people living in the world – was his genius, as he’s expanded greatly on that premise in his outstanding Astro City series. While Ross’ illustration skills haven’t dimmed – he still brings the best mix of visual storytelling and painting skills to the table of anyone – his authorial projects have been considerably less interesting.

So seeing Busiek bring us a sequel to Marvels is cause for celebration. Apparently his first proposal for a sequel was eventually turned into the current Astro City: The Dark Age maxi-series, but after much research we now have Eye of the Camera, which opens with the protagonist of the first series – freelance photographer Phil Sheldon – recapping the dawn of the Marvel Age in the 1960s, and then moving into the 1970s where the remainder of the series will take place. As before, Phil both stands in awe and wonder of the heroes, but has a strong melancholy streak, as if ordinary folks like him don’t – can’t – measure up. And this issue ends on a note guaranteed to bring even more melancholy into his life. While mostly rehashing the themes of the first series, this first issue does so quite well and promises new and different material going forward. Busiek has always been keenly aware of the ‘feel’ of comics from different eras, and I have no doubt that he’ll put a spin on 1970s Marvel comics which distinguishes them from the 1960s era.

Ross doesn’t come along for the ride; instead a newcomer (well, new to me anyway), Jay Anacleto, illustrates the book. It has the look of being drawn and shaded, with nuanced color laid over it; not quite painted like Ross, but still more intricate than typical line drawings, even with modern computer coloring. He has Ross’ flair for layouts and playing with color palettes – for example the scenes in Sheldon’s developing studio – but not quite his skills at body or facial expressions. Still, he’s pretty good, and gives the book a distinctive look.

If not quite the revelation that Marvels or Astro City were from their very first issues, Eye of the Camera still has a lot of promise, and perhaps its biggest flaw is that it is, well, a sequel, but one which has to explain its premise for new readers who haven’t read its predecessor. Nonetheless, I have high hopes that the whole package will be a lot of fun.