This Week’s Haul

Not only did I somehow miss Iron Fist #22, but I still haven’t found the first two issues of Legend of the Blue Marvel. Still, a pretty big week:

  • Booster Gold #18, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Ex Machina Special #4, by Brian K. Vaughan & John Paul Leon (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fables #82, by Bill Willingham & David Hahn (DC/Vertigo)
  • Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Mist and The Phantom of the Fair vol 7 TPB, by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Sagle & Guy Davis (DC/Vertigo)
  • Top 10 Season Two #4, by Zander Cannon & Gene Ha (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel #5 of 5, by Kevin Grevioux, Mat Broome, Roberto Castro, Sean Parsons, Álvaro López & Lorenzo Ruggiero (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #11, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Wes Craig (Marvel)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist #23, by Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman, Tonci Zonjic, Timothy Green II, Tom Palmer & Mark Pennington (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • The Life and Times of Savior 28 #1 of 6, by J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Cavallaro (IDW)
Sandman Mystery Theatre vol 7: The Mist and The Phantom of the Fair The latest collection of Sandman Mystery Theatre features a lot of fun little bits for fans of Golden Age DC characters. “The Mist” involves a threat by the villain of the same name, but before he became the crime lord we’re familiar with; it also guest-stars Ted Knight, before he became Starman, when he was one of several scientists competing in a contest for government funding. Then “The Phantom of the Fair” has an appearance by the Crimson Avenger, and mention of Hourman and the Flash. Sandman at one point remarks with a little awe that he’s no longer the only masked man trying to bring justice to the pre-World War II American cities. It’s an effective touch reminding us that the world of 1939 is changing in more than one way in the DC Universe.

(“The Mist” is also referred to in the story “Sand and Stars” in James Robinson’s Starman series. It’s my favorite story of that series, and was recently reprinted, so it was neat to see where one element of that story came from, here.)

The stories are effective thrillers, as usual, drawing more from the inspiration of the pulps for their adventure and the British mystery novels for their character. They’re more adventure yarns than mysteries, though, which is occasionally disappointing, as if they’re not quite reaching their full potential. Still, it’s good stuff. Just be braced for some brutal scenes, especially in “The Phantom of The Fair”, in which a disturbed killer mutilates his victims – all homosexual men – before dumping them on the World’s Fair ground.

The stories also spend a considerable amount of time chronicling Wes’ relationship with Dian Belmont. Here Dian is fully aware of Wes’ extracurricular activities, and supports them and even helps him, but she’s still a little jealous that the Sandman has such a hold on him.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying these collections of this series from the 1990s as they’ve been published this decade, having only read the first few issues when they came out. Fans of noir thrillers should enjoy them, too.

The Life and Times of Savior 28 #1 The Life and Times of Savior 28 is the latest superhero comic by J.M. DeMatteis, who’s been working the genre for over 30 years, with a fair amount of acclaim. Myself, I tend to find his stories overly wordy and expositive, with complicated set-ups and characters whose behavior and emotions never seem to quite ring true to me. I think my favorite thing of his is his abortive series Abadazad, but even it I thought had the same general flaws as the rest of his work.

In this series, Savior 28 is a hero who emerged just prior to World War II (don’t they all?) as part of some government experiments. The 28th subject, only one other survived – Savior 13, who became a twisted, evil, Bizarro-like figure. Both men lived through the 20th century until Savior 13 was finally killed. Some years later, having turned over a new leaf following the destruction of the World Trade Towers, Savior 28 is himself assassinated. The story of his life is narrated by his former sidekick, who like his mentor is long-lived, and the first issue ends with a surprising twist.

The story covers familiar ground, so I presume this issue is mainly set-up. The notion of an iconic superhero from the dawn of superheroes living to the present day and facing his end is hardly new (to pick one extremely obscure series which I enjoyed, there’s Magna-Man: The Last Super-Hero). That Savior 28 is more flawed than most such Superman analogues makes it a little stranger, but not (so far) very different. The issue follows the patterns of DeMatteis’ writing I described above: A complex set-up with a lot of exposition, but not a lot that resonates emotionally. I’m curious about where it’s going, but the first issue didn’t exactly work up my enthusiasm.

Mike Cavallaro’s art is okay. The anatomy often seems a little off. It’s very evocative of Jack Kirby, although like most art evoking Kirby it gets the trappings right but the soul of Kirby isn’t there. It’s not quite my sort of thing.

Greg Burgas (at Comics Should Be Good) is more of a DeMatteis fan than I am, and he likes the book a little better than I do. Marc-Oliver Frisch (at Comiks Debris) has an opinion similar to mine, although he enjoys DeMatteis’ work generally more than I do.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 19 March 2008.

  • Batman: The Killing Joke HC, by Alan Moore & Brian Bolland (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #11, by Mark Waid, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #6 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, Mike Norton & Jimmy Palmiotti (DC)
  • The Death of the New Gods #7 of 8, by Jim Starlin & Art Thibert (DC)
  • Ex Machina #35, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fables #71, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Hourman and The Python vol 6 TPB, by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis & Warren Pleece (DC)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #1 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Matthew Clark & Fernando Pasarin (DC)
  • Marvel Masterworks: Captain America vol 93 HC, collecting Captain America #114-124, by Stan Lee, Gene Colan, John Romita, John Buscema, Sal Buscema & Joe Sinnott (Marvel)
  • Thor #7, by J. Michael Straczynski, Mark Djurdjevic & Danny Miki (Marvel)
  • Invincible #49, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Batman: The Killing Joke Deluxe Edition Batman: The Killing Joke was arguably Alan Moore’s last really major contribution to comics, coming in 1988 which puts it right on the heels of Watchmen. Originally a “prestige format” graphic novel (which meant it was on nicer paper and was squarebound, but otherwise not much longer than your typical comic), it’s been reissued in a 20th-anniversary deluxe hardcover edition, recolored by artist Brian Bolland. It’s a very nice package.

It’s a pretty good story, a hard-hitting look at the Joker’s psyche and why he acts like he does. It provides an origin of sorts for the character – a twisted variant of his Silver Age “Red Hood” origin – without committing to it. In the story, the Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and cripples his daughter Barbara in order to prove a point about his sanity (or lack thereof) to Batman. The ending is perhaps a little too cute for its own good, but all-in-all it’s a good story with terrific art by Bolland. It’s told in a manner very similar to that of Watchmen with clever scene transitions and a restrained, “realistic” layout. Moore also lets some of Batman’s heroism show through, which I appreciate since I can’t stand the psychopathic character he’s become since the publication of The Dark Knight Returns.

The crippling of Barbara Gordon – the Bronze Age Batgirl – has been controversial, since female characters often seem to get tortured to “prove a point” to or about the male heroes (c.f. Women in Refrigerators). Barbara’s character was rehabilitated by turning her into Oracle, the computer-savvy mastermind behind the Birds of Prey series (also providing tech support for Grant Morrison’s JLA). In isolation, the event is brutal and effective in this story; in a larger context it does feel rather cliché. It’s worth noting that it’s now been nearly as long (20 years) since Barbara was crippled than the time (22 years) that she served as Batgirl. Generations of comics fans (as comics generations are measured) have grown up knowing her only as Oracle (unless they watched the Batman animated series); at what point does her current persona become her defining one?

Anyway. It’s a good story, influential mainly in how it defined and changed several of its characters, less so than for its storytelling. And the art is beautiful.

Sandman Mystery Theatre vol 6: The Hourman and The Python Speaking of relatively brutal comic book series, Sandman Mystery Theatre was a noir-ish detective/superhero/thriller series set in 1930s New York which ran for 70 issues in the 1990s. I picked up the first 8 issues (the first 2 story arcs) and then dropped it, mainly because I wasn’t a fan of Guy Davis’ artwork in the first arc, and I liked his replacement in the second arc even less. DC has been collecting the series in paperback form, and I was moved to pick them up and try it again. Not only does it read much better in collected form than as individual issues, but I’ve warmed to Davis’ artwork (large noses on his characters and all) and it turns out he does most of the drawing in the series. With this volume, number 6, we reach the halfway point in the series.

Wesley Dodds is a rich man-about-town who is tortured by dreams of killers, and who at night puts on a gas mask and employs a gun of sleep gas of his own making and hunts down these killers, even though he’s often at odds with the police. Besides this adventure, SMT is also a romance, following Dodds and Dian Beaumont gradually falling in love and moving towards their lifelong relationship. Dian is a strong adventurous woman, a little out-of-place with the societal roles her position forces her to play. She’s also deeply conflicted about Wes’s nocturnal habits, which she’s well aware of by the time of this volume. The tentative dance the two engage in, two steps forward and one step back with each arc, is agonizing and yet delicately crafted.

The adventure ain’t bad, either. The first arc in this volume features Hourman, another golden age hero, who joins with Sandman to catch some jewel thieves. Hourman’s superhuman powers are cleverly portrayed, showing them obliquely to make their full impact greater when he does something truly remarkable. The second story, The Python, is one of the more routine tales in the series, regarding some mysterious stranglings around the city.

If you find run-of-the-mill superhero comics dull, but would be interested in some mystery and romance to go with the adventure, then I recommend this series.

(Incidentally, there was a sequel mini-series published a year or so go, which I didn’t care for at all. It bore very little resemblance to this one in style or theme, so I don’t recommend it. A better coda to the series is a story arc of James Robinson’s excellent Starman series, collected in the volume Sand and Stars.)

Tangent: Superman's Reign #1 One of the more fun mini-series of the last 20 years was Tangent Comics. Tangent was created to fill a “skip week”; you see, most comics are published monthly, but comics ship every week. This means that four months each year there’s an extra week, so companies have the choice of spreading out their offerings across five weeks in those months, or producing some new material. For a little while, DC comics would publish some new material to fill the “skip week”, and the best of these was Tangent.

The premise was that an entirely new world was created under the oversight of Dan Jurgens, completely unrelated to any of DC’s other properties, except that the names of the characters and places and things would be re-used in completely new contexts. So in this world The Atom was a series of Superman-like figures who descended from a man who gained powers from early A-bomb tests. His presence caused Cuba to nuke the southeastern United States in 1962, resulting in even more super-beings, as well as New Atlantis, a futuristic city built on the site of Atlanta. The original set of comics were all snapshots of this world, with insight into its past and perhaps its ultimate future and doom. It was very clever and entertaining, well-written and well-drawn. The setting was re-used a year later in a second set of titles, which were considerably less enjoyable, re-imagining the “big three” heroes Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, in each case in a rather unimaginative manner (the Wonder Woman issue was especially noxious), and some redux issues of characters from the first series. Ultimately it felt like an attempt to “cash in” on the original concept, and predictably (and deservedly) the series disappeared after this second set of issues.

Now, ten years later, Tangent is back in Tangent Comics: Superman’s Reign, as one of the worlds in the new DC Multiverse (as Earth-9), and the Justice League is going to visit their world, which it turns out has been subjugated by their Superman figure, a superevolved human who I assume thinks he was doing the world a favor by taking it over and imposing his own order on it. A 12-issue series feels somehow like overkill, and integrating it with the Justice League sort of takes away some of what was special about Tangent, but it could still work out. The set-up here is pretty decent, and Matthew Clark’s got a clean line and pretty dynamic sense of layout. If writer Jurgens can get back to what made the first series fun and establish it once again as its own thing, not truly beholden to the main DC Universe, then this could be a good series. If it ends up being caught up in the Final Crisis muddle or falls apart storywise midway through, then it will probably be entirely forgettable.

But I’m going in with some optimism, because my memories of the first batch of Tangent Comics still burn brightly in my mind.

Thor #7 This month’s Thor wins the award for “hardest-to-spell creator names” for the month – maybe the year. Straczynski, Djurdjevic, Eliopoulos, Arbona, and even Danny Miki. Ye gads.

The story is still ridiculously slow, though. This issue is mostly a flashback one, in which Odin relates a tale from his youth while Thor is visiting him in the afterlife. That’s pretty much all you need to know, since nothing’s really happened in several issues.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 11 April 2007.

  • All-Star Superman #7, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)
  • Fables #60, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • 52 #49 of 52 (DC)
  • Sandman Mystery Theatre: Dr. Death and The Night of the Butcher vol 5, by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis & Vince Locke (DC/Vertigo)
  • Sandman Mystery Theatre: Sleep of Reason #5 of 5, by John Ney Rieber & Eric Nguyen (DC/Vertigo)
  • Wonder Woman #7, by Jodi Picoult, Drew Johnson & Ray Snyder (DC)
  • Marvel Masterworks: Iron Man vol 77 HC, collecting Tales of Suspense #84-99 and Iron Man #1, by Stan Lee & Gene Colan (Marvel)
  • newuniversal #5, by Warren Ellis & Salvador Larroca (Marvel)
  • Nova #1, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Sean Chen & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls #2 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • The Complete Peanuts 1963-1964 HC, by Charles M. Schultz (Fantagraphics)

When the original Sandman Mystery Theatre came out, in the early 90s, I as intrigued, but had a very hard time getting into it. A lot of it was the artwork: Guy Davis is a decent artist, but he had a penchant (at that time) for drawing all his characters with huge noses, which was very distracting. (I understand that some people have larger noses. But not everyone does.) The occasional guest artist tended to be even worse. And, as it turns out, the series just didn’t lend itself well to serialization; each 4-issue story had awkward breaks between issues, which made it difficult to follow the series from a narrative standpoint.

All of which means that I’ve been buying the trade paperbacks and enjoying them a lot more than I did the original series. It’s the story of Wesley Dodds, the original Sandman, a late-1930s adventurer who is driven by intense dreams to seek out and capture the most twisted of villains. Each story features a different psychopath as its heavy, and it also chronicles the ongoing romance between Dodds and Dian Belmont, a young socialite whose father is the chief of police. The story is a little bit Peter Wimsey, a little bit Nexus, and a little bit Batman. Wes is a very fallable – but driven – hero, and Dian is smart and independent. The Sandman operates outside the law and sometimes runs afoul of the police. And, fortunately, Davis’ artwork has gotten much better by this latest volume. I’m enjoying it more than I’d ever thought I would. The series is long since defunct, but I still hope that it comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Which is more than I can say for Sleep of Reason, which updates the Sandman to 21st century Afghanistan. I’ve already commented about this series before, but I don’t like the art, the characters are flimsy, and the story seems kind of pointless. It’s a poor successor to the original.

I wasn’t going to pick up Nova until I realized it was being drawn by Sean Chen, whose work on Kurt Busiek’s Iron Man 8 or so years ago I’d enjoyed tremendously. Authors Abnett and Lanning have an uneven track record, but it might be more charitable to call it “eccentric”, and I’m usually willing to give their books a glance. Here, Nova is still an Earthman who’s inherited the mantle of the protector of an alien world, but now he’s the last such protector left, and he’s driving himself to fill the void left in the wake of the others’ deaths (which occurred in one of Marvel’s myriad crossover series – Annihilation, I think). Like Ms. Marvel, there’s potential here, but no sign at all where things are going to go. Hopefully the writers can figure it all out (and editorial won’t quash their best ideas).

Another month, another Marvel Masterworks. I’m not buying very many of them anymore, and yet I’m still behind. On the bright side, a new Peanuts volume is always cause for celebration, and I’m looking forward to devouring this one.

By the way, it looks like I’ve now been writing this weekly comics roundup for 6 months now. How time flies!

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 14 February 2007.

Okay, having tried it for a few weeks, I think I like my original format better:

  • 52 #41 of 52 (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #3 (DC)
  • Sandman Mystery Theatre: Sleep of Reason #3 of 5 (DC/Vertigo)
  • The Incredible Hulk #96-103 (Marvel)

That said, it was an undistinguished week. 52 and JSA both had pretty pedestrian issues. Sandman has its points of interest, but Eric Nguyen’s skechy artwork turns me off: Backgrounds are rare, peoples’ faces usually look strained or pained, characters are difficult to tell apart… I think the story would do much better with a more realistic art style.

I bought the rest of the “Planet Hulk” storyline to date (apparently it will run through #105). It occurred to me while reading these eight issues that the story is focusing mainly on the Hulk, and Bruce Banner hardly appears at all. It mainly concerns the influence that Hulk has on those around him, how they learn from his demeanor and aggressiveness, and how that doesn’t always apply in different situations. The Hulk is unique because he’s learned to care about no one but himself, and he has the power to back it up; those who are more caring, or weaker, can’t get away with the same attitude. But Hulk also realizes that he’s his own worst enemy, though he’s come to accept this somewhat.

In a way, this story takes the gray Hulk from early in Peter David’s run and makes him more aloof and dispassionate: He’s not stupid, and he understands many of the subtleties of what’s going on around him, but mostly he doesn’t care. In the high-pressure arena that he’s landed on, that makes for an entertaining ride. (Aaron Lopresti’s artwork is darned nice, too.)