This Week’s Haul

  • Fables #79, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Peter Gross & Andrew Pepoy (DC)
  • Ex Machina #40, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #10 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Carlos Magno & Julio Ferreira, and Ron Marz, Andie Tong & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Terra #4 of 4, by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers vol 109 HC, collecting The Avengers vol 1 #69-79, by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia, Sam Grainger & Tom Palmer (Marvel)
  • Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes #2 of 2, by Warren Ellis, Clayton Crain & Kaare Andrews (Marvel)
  • Beanworld Holiday Special, by Larry Marder (Dark Horse)
Ex Machina #40 It’s been a while since I’ve written about Ex Machina – about a year, in fact. The comic’s tone is very low-key, consisting mostly of talking heads with the occasional action scene or fantastical occurrence. But for the most part it involves New York Mayor Mitchell Hundred blazing his own unique trail across the post-9/11 political scene, as the only person in the world (well, almost) with superpowers (he can talk to and command machines).

This issue is both a whole issue of talking heads, and yet something of a departure from the main arc: It involves the comic’s writer and artist going in to meet with Mayor Hundred to interview for the job of telling his life story in comic book form. Self-referential, with an amusing twist at the end. It’s interesting to see how writer Vaughan and artist Harris see themselves: Vaughan seems filled with self-doubt and looks to Hundred for guidance (even if he doesn’t come out and say it), while Harris is more flamboyant and self-assured. It’s a cute little aside.

Reportedly Ex Machina will conclude with issue #50, and Comic Book Resources has some info on what the final ten issues will bring. I’m glad to see that the explanation behind Mitchell’s powers will be revealed, but even with 80% of the series completed, I still don’t really know where it’s going. I worry that it’s just not going to have the payoff to justify the journey, and the journey’s been a little too laid-back to justify itself.

Terra #4 Terra wraps up this month, and it’s been a real rarity in comics these days: A fun adventure story that doesn’t have aspirations of being some big must-read event, but rather has the modest goals of setting up the new heroine’s background and plugging her in to the world around her. It also came out fast – the first issue came out in early November. Yowza!

In this concluding issue we learn a little more about Terra and the city she comes from, and she faces down the villain of the series, who turns out to be a less-than-compelling figure. But the series has treated Terra’s opponents as throw-away figures from the beginning, so I probably shouldn’t be surprised that the guy who shows up in all four issues is only slightly more significant.

The issue takes the very unusual tack of spending its final third with what’s mostly a talking heads sequence: Chatting with Power Girl about where she goes from here, and then the two of them going out shopping in their secret identities (a concept Terra doesn’t quite get). It’s funny and quirky, but it feels more like the lead-in to a regular series rather than the end of a mini-series. I guess Terra’s moving over to Terror Titans, a series I have absolutely no interest in reading, so I dunno if she’ll have any more solo adventures. But if Palmiotti, Gray and Conner produce them, I’d read ’em.

Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes #2 Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes concludes with two more stories showing alternate outcomes of the first “Ghost Box” story in Warren Ellis’ AXM run. Both issues have been good stuff, but not apparently essential; mainly they convey the fact that the interloper that the X-Men stopped in the main title was the spearhead of a potential invasion force from a parallel world, and the team is fortunate they were able to stop him, since we see how much worse things could have gone.

The mini-series has taken a lot of flak for its $3.99 cover price, given that about a third of the pages are Ellis’ scripts for the stories in the issue. I can understand that, and no, I don’t think I really got great value for my $3.99, although I don’t really regret buying them anyway, since what there was, was indeed entertaining. Food for thought given Brian Hibbs’ musings on mainstream comics likely jumping from $2.99 to $3.99 per issue across-the-board soon.

Beanworld Holiday Special Larry Marder’s Tales of the Beanworld was one of the weirder independent comics from back in the day: Written in a fable-like style, with stick-figure art, it was still charming in its way. It main focus was to concoct a self-contained world with its own unique ecosystem, following the characters through their lives as various developments upset the status quo. Now, years later, we get the Beanworld Holiday Special, which I’ve heard is leading a new Beanworld series coming out next year.

Happily, it’s more of the same charm and weirdness, as the beans try to figure out why the next generation doesn’t seem to be interested in learning the trades necessary to keep their society running. It’s a good introduction to the concept, and is suitable for all ages. If you’re a comics fan who’s at all interested in stuff beyond superhero fare, you ought to check it out; you might be surprised.

This Week’s Haul

Running almost a week late, as happens from time to time.

  • The Brave and the Bold #19, by David Hine, Doug Braithwaite & Bill Reinhold (DC)
  • Ex Machina #39, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fables: War and Pieces vol 11 TPB, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha & Niko Henrichon (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice Society of America: Kingdom Come Special: Magog #1, by Peter Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin & Mick Gray, and Geoff Johns & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #9 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Carlos Magno & Andi Tong, and Ron Marz, Julio Ferreira & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Terra #2 of 4, by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Avengers/Invaders #6 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Steve Sadowski & Patrick Berkenkotter (Marvel)
  • Marvel Masterworks: Iron Man vol 107 HC, collecting Iron Man vol 1 #2-13, by Archie Goodwin, George Tuska & Johnny Craig (Marvel)
  • Castle Waiting #13, by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)
  • Invincible #55, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #4 of 5, by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Joshua Ross & Jonathan Ross (Red 5)
Terra #2 Don MacPherson covers the uncomfortable opening pages of Terra in which the heroine – having been lying naked on a table while Dr. Mid-Nite examined her after she was brought in unconscious following a battle – gets dressed while arguing with him and Power Girl about her privacy being invaded. It’s a little weird that the previous thing I read by Conner – the Power Girl story in JSA Classified a few years back – also featured a sequence in which the heroine was getting dressed. It’s not clear to me why Terra was nude in the first place – it’s not like her costume covers her up very much – so it just seems gratuitous. Not that I don’t appreciate Conner’s drawings – she does draw very attractive women – but still, it feels gratuitous. (There’s another scene toward the end of the issue in which the presumptive villain is having a talk with his girlfriend while she’s showering, and it’s almost as awkward.)

Okay, that aside, Terra is taking an unusual storytelling tack: The heroine is fighting one threat after another (here we have the Silver Banshee, a random Sumerian monster, and a horde of zombies) but none of them seem related to one another. Rather, they’re a foil to explore Terra’s personality and – presumably – eventually get to her background and her seemingly self-imposed mission. It appears that she’s a clone of the original Terra, inhabited by a spirit (or something) which is using her earth-manipulation powers for good. I’m interested to see how this plays out, but overall the art is outstripping the story so far.

Marvel Masterworks vol 103: Iron Man The fifth volume of Marvel’s Iron Man Masterworks shipped this week, and I think that’ll be it for me. Iron Man wasn’t really among Marvel’s A-list material until David Michelinie and Bob Layton took over the book in the mid-70s: It started off illustrated by Steve Ditko, followed by Don Heck, Gene Colan, and in this volume George Tuska. Colan’s run is something of a revelation, perhaps the best work I’ve ever seen by him, but Ditko seemed to be phoning it in, neither Heck nor Tuska have been among my favorites. And the stories were never that exciting, either. This volume is written by Archie Goodwin (Stan Lee wrote most of the earlier tales), who was a very good writer, but it looks like it’s another series of undistinguished adventure yarns. So I think I’ve run out of gas on this one.

At this point I’m still buying the Avengers and Spider-Man Masterworks, and I’d buy another Nick Fury one if they print it (which they really should, to get the Steranko stuff in hardcover). But I’m just about out of gas on all the others I’m buying, and a couple have basically collected all the issues I want. But after over 100 volumes, I think Marvel has just about mined their silver age catalogue for the stuff worth collecting.

Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #4 It took a little while, but with this latest issue I think Atomic Robo is really coming together. And it’s mostly because of the interplay between rivals/reluctant allies Robo and the British agent The Sparrow, which not only makes the chase and fight scenes more fun, but the humor works much better with two characters invested in the action. She’s basically the first real supporting character in the series, and the series is much the better for it.

This issue just about wraps up Robo’s mission to destroy the Nazi armored battle suits in 1943, with some collateral carnage along the way. I guess next issue with be a denouement. The short back-up stories are also entertaining, although very lightweight. This series has been an improvement on the first series so far, but I’m hoping it will get weightier in future series.

This Week’s Haul

  • Justice Society of America #20, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Nathan Massengill, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • The New Teen Titans Archives vol 4 HC, by Marv Wolfman, George Pérez & Romeo Tanghal (DC)
  • Terra #1 of 4, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amada Conner (DC)
  • Top Ten Season Two #2 of 5, by Zander Cannon & Gene Ha (DC/America’s Best)
  • Gigantic #1 of 5, by Rick Remender & Eric Nguyen (Dark Horse)
The New Teen Titans Archives vol. 4 When compiling a list of the most significant books during the bronze age of comics (roughly 1970-1990), Marv Wolfman & George Pérez’s New Teen Titans would certainly make the top ten, a little bit behind Chris Claremont & John Byrne’s Uncanny X-Men. The two books (and rumor is that Titans was intended to be DC’s answer to Marvel’s X-Men) brought stronger characterization and soap opera elements to mainstream superhero comics, essentially taking what Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had done at Marvel in the 60s to a higher level of sophistication. As such, both series are worth reading for their historical import, but also because they both hold up pretty well today.

This week DC released the fourth volume of the Titans Archives, covering issues #21-27, which is roughly the midpoint of the Wolfman/Pérez run (Pérez left the series after #47, although he returned occasionally thereafter, but the book wasn’t the same without him). What really makes the series work is that it’s about a group of former teenage sidekicks who are growing up; rather than being 11 or 12, they’re now 19 or 20 and are coming into their own. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: The original Robin was only going to become a man once, Kid Flash was only going to figure out how to come out of the shadow of his mentor once. Into this mix they dropped three brand-new characters from significantly different backgrounds and forged a team out of them.

This particular volume is something of a mixed bag: The first story involves the cult leader Brother Blood, who I never felt really worked as a villain due to being just too heavy-handed. The third story was notable for dealing with teenage runaways and the underworld they can often fall into. It does a pretty good job of both surveying many different characters’ fates with a central story holding it together, but again it feels a little too heavy-handed. But it was cutting-edge at the time, the sorts of issues (drugs, prostitution, minors getting involved with the mob) which had previously been verboten in comics. It’s the middle story which really shines, the longest story since the 6-issue one which launched the series: The alien Starfire’s evil sister comes to Earth and kidnaps her, and the Titans chase after her and get involved in the ongoing civil war in her home solar system. It’s satisfying as a science fiction adventure, but it also cements Robin and Starfire’s growing romantic relationship, while providing insight into her background. It’s still a fun read even today, at least as long as you ignore the political situation of the Vega system, which mostly makes little sense.

This was the point where George Pérez was making his transition from a Jack Kirby imitator to become George Pérez, with his outstanding sense of anatomy, unusually wide range of character faces, and detailed costumes and backgrounds. The changes occur almost before your eyes, and he’s now only about a year away from becoming the artist we know today, but he’s not quite there yet, and Romeo Tanghal’s inks – although they’d benefit nearly any other artist working at the time – are starting to feel not quite subtle enough to bring out the best in the pencils.

All-in-all, it’s a fine package, but the best was yet to come. Hopefully DC will keep going with these collections so we can get the whole run in hardcover.

Terra #1 Speaking of the Teen Titans, the volume above featured the first appearance of Terra, a Wolfman creation who was the pivotal character in the climactic story arc of his run with Pérez. Since then, as ComicVine’s entry on her says, she’s “probably one of the most retconned characters in the [DC Universe]”. She’s back this month, in a mini-series with yet another take on the character: This Terra is a cipher with the ability to telekinetically move the dirt and rock who protects the inhabitants below the Earth’s surface from intrusions from above – and vice-versa. In this first issue she gets in a little too deep and is rescued by Power Girl, who brings her to Doctor Mid-Nite who makes a surprising discovery about her identity. It’s a promising start, so we’ll see how it plays out.

It’s rare to see a female artist make it in mainstream superhero comics, so I’m always secretly rooting for them to hit it big, since I think it couldn’t help but be good for the industry. Unfortunately, it seems like there are only a few who make even a small impact in any decade: In the 80s there was Mary Wilshire and June Brigman, and in the 90s there was Jill Thompson.

In this decade we have Amanda Conner, who might be best known for drawing the sardonic graphic novel The Pro, and the Power Girl story in JSA Classified a few years ago. Terra may well end up being better than either of those. Conner’s strength is in facial expressions; she regularly composes pages with a series of panels from the same perspective which vary mainly in body language and expression, and they’re often the most memorable scenes in the issue. There are two such pages at the end of this issue. With the slightly cartoony edge to her style, reading this issue feels a little like reading a webcomic, yet it has a friendliness which sets it apart from the doom-and-gloom hyper-realism of many comics at DC these days.

The rest of this one ought to be fun.