This Week’s Haul

In the wake of news that J. Michael Straczynski has bailed out of writing Superman and Wonder Woman due to the success of the Superman: Earth One graphic novel, I’ve decided to drop those books too. I mean, if he can’t commit to finishing the stories he started, why should I commit to finishing reading them? Honestly, though, his Superman was awful, just nonsensical and boring. Wonder Woman was better, but nothing I’m going to miss.

And yes, I skipped Superman: Earth One, too, because, you know, another retelling of Superman’s early days? No thanks.

Oh, and both Batman: The Return and the first issue of Batman Inc. shipped this week, but as I said last week I’ve pretty much gotten the idea where Grant Morrison’s Batman work at DC is concerned (quirky, yet dull and characterization-free), so I decided the end of The Return of Bruce Wayne was the end of it for me, and I passed on both those issues.

  • DC Universe: Legacies #7 of 10, by Len Wein, Scott Kolins, Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway & Brian Bolland (DC)
  • The Flash #6, by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul (DC)
  • Green Lantern #59, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Green Lantern Corps #54, by Tony Bedard, Tyler Kirkham & Batt (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #7, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Wayne Faucher & Francis Portela (DC)
  • Power Girl #18, by Judd Winick & Sami Basri (DC)
  • Zatanna #7, by Adam Beechen, Chad Hardin & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #4 of 4, by David Petersen, Craig Rousseau, Karl Kerschl & Mark Smylie (Archaia)
  • Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil, by Mike Mignola & Richard Corben (Dark Horse)
  • Grandville: Mon Amour HC, by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse)
  • Morning Glories #4, by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma (Image)
  • Ghost Projekt #5 of 5, by Joe Harris & Steve Rolston (Oni)
  • The Sixth Gun #6, by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni)
Speaking of series I’m dropping, this is it for me and The Flash. Geoff Johns’ writing has been okay, but the title, “The Dastardly Death of the Rogues”, had very little to do with the actual story (only one “Rogue” died, and he wasn’t even the real deal), and the plot felt rather recycled (time travel, changing history, etc.). And as I’ve said before, I haven’t been at all convinced by Johns’ handling of Barry Allen returning to his old life and job after what must have been 5 or 10 years of time in Central City, with little questioning from his colleagues and friends as to where he’s been. The adventure has been a decent romp, but it didn’t really hang together.

But the thing that’s really driving me away is Francis Manapul’s artwork, which is sketchy, simplistic, makes many of the characters look like teenagers, is short on backgrounds, and features some really bland layouts. His art has been getting rave reviews from some corners, which frankly astonishes me, but diff’rent strokes, I guess. It just hasn’t worked for me at all, and his name on a book will be a big caution sign for me in the future.

Maybe down the road I’ll regret dropping this series so soon, as I did Johns’ previous resurrected hero’s series, Green Lantern. But at least that series had top-notch artwork, even if it got off to a slow start. There’s really nothing that appeals to me about this Flash series.

And speaking of Green Lantern that series is still dealing with Hal Jordan trying to hold together an alliance of the seven colored ring corps as they try to track down the seven avatars of the corps. Since some of the corps are outright villains, this is a tough group to manage, and this issue focuses largely on Flash trying to talk some sense into GL that perhaps he should be turning to his earthbound friends – no slouches themselves in the power department – rather than the murderous Red Lanterns or the avaricious Larfleeze, the Orange Lantern.

The problem with this story is that Flash is absolutely right, and the set-up smells strongly of Johns being just too in love with the idea of a rainbow lantern corps that he’s making GL behave out of character in order to keep the idea going. While an alliance between the Green (will) and Blue (hope) corps, and maybe even the Star Sapphires (love) makes some sense, working with Larfleeze or the Red Lanterns is borderline-insane. And frankly the fact that bad things happen at the end of this issue are the natural consequences of GL not listening to reason. It makes the story difficult to believe in.

I think the premise is supposed to be that the Blackest Night changed the status quo among all the ring corps, but it doesn’t really hold up: Absent a clear-and-present danger (and the avatars don’t really present one), it’s hard to believe that these corps would work together and ignore their natural impulses. And at some point the series is going to have to deal with the presence of several thousand rings of each color flying around the galaxy, because otherwise it’s going to lead to everything being destroyed. Johns has raised the power level too high without really considering where that’s going to lead, and having it lead somewhere else makes the story less and less plausible.

Let’s move on to some good stuff: Grandville: Mon Amour is (you guessed it) the sequel to Bryan Talbot’s anthropomorphic alternate-history scientific-romance thriller (whew!) that I read earlier this year. The setting is Britain and France in the present day, but a world where France conquered Europe under Napoleon, and Britain has only recently won its independence. Detective-Inspector LeBrock is one of Scotland Yard’s best investigators, and was recently involved in an escapade which resulted in the death of the French Emperor, as well as the death of a woman he loved. But he’s pulled out of his misery by the escape of “Mad Dog” Mastock, a former revolutionary who later became a deadly serial killer, whom LeBrock apprehended several years ago. Mastock escapes from prison on the day of his execution, and LeBrock is forced to resign from the Yard in order to pursue him. As before, LeBrock and his partner Detective Ratzi follow Mastock back to Grandville (which I believe is Paris) to find out what he’s up to and to bring him down. As in the first book, the case will change the course of nations.

Oh yeah, and all the characters are human-sized animals: LeBrock is a badger, Ratzi’s a rat, and there are dogs, cats, rams, pigs, and various other creatures. Plus a few humans, who are a lower-class oddity in this world. Other than very muted undertones of racial differences, Talbot doesn’t really do much with the different species in the book, but it does make the work visually different. But I found it perfectly easy to ignore the anthropomorphic renderings and just enjoy the story for what it is.

And it is a very good story, as Talbot – as he always does – has meticulously worked out the setting and characters of his story, and sumptuously renders every panel. It’s really a beautiful work (as was the first volume). The story is a page-turner, too, with a smashing climax (although there’s an extra layer of discoveries to be made at the end which I felt was a little too much, but it’s not a big deal). While I haven’t read everything Talbot has done, I’ve read a lot of it, and his writing and art have gotten consistently better with time. I hope he’s planning to continue doing Grandville volumes, because the first two have been great. If any of the elements I’ve described in the story appeal to you, I suggest you check it out.

(You can see a preview of the volume here. Note especially that the interior art is much lusher than the relatively flat cover to the left.)

Two Oni comics stories wrap up this week. Ghost Projekt has been an excellent 5-issue miniseries about Will Haley, an American weapons inspector working in Russia, who teams up with with Anya Romanova, a Russian agent, to learn the secret of the Cold War Project Dosvidanya, whose former members have been turning up dead. It was a nifty combination of the post-Cold War Russian setting and a fantasy/horror plot. The payoff is pretty good, although there’s a development at the end involving Anya which I didn’t understand – I think I’ve forgotten a plot detail somewhere. I also appreciated that the story has a climax, and then several pages of denouement trying up loose ends – too many stories these days forget how important that part is.

Steve Rolston‘s art is simple but extremely effective; his style feels like it comes from doing comic strips, but he does a great job drawing the darker stuff, too. It gives the story a cheerful veneer without compromising the seriousness of the story – it’s an approach you wouldn’t see much from one of the major publishers.

I hope there will be a sequel series, because this was a lot of fun.

The other series that’s been a lot of fun is The Sixth Gun, which could easily have been a 6-issue miniseries, but apparently it’s continuing beyond this issue. Hooray! I’ve gushed about the series before, which involves supernatural guns in the Wild West, an insane Confederate General trying to bring about the apocalypse, and the handful of men (and the woman who inherits the General’s gun) trying to stop them. This issue has the big showdown with the General and his men, and it’s a good one, with some pretty awesome moments during the big battle. I don’t think it’s a surprise (since the series continues on) that the good guys prevail, although certainly there’s room for the General to return.

I’m curious to see where Bunn & Hurtt take the series next, after this climax. I could see them jumping the story forward in time, or they might continue the current narrative – if the latter, I hope they start to focus a little more on the characters since they should have more time to let them grow a bit.

This Week’s Haul

Hey, look! It’s another late entry! You’d think I was running out of gas on writing these every week or something!

Last Week:

  • Astro City Special: Silver Agent #2 of 2, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Secret Six #25, by Gail Simone & Jim Calafiore (DC)
  • Tom Strong and the Robots of Soom #4 of 6, by Peter Hogan, Chris Sprouse & Karl Story (DC/America’s Best Comics)
  • Captain America: Forever Allies #2 of 4, by Roger Stern, Nick Dragotta, Marco Santucci & Patrick Piazzaguta (Marvel)
  • Hercules: Twilight of a God #4 of 4, by Bob Layton & Ron Lim (Marvel)
  • Scarlet #2, by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev (Marvel/Icon)
  • Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #3 of 4, by David Petersen, Katie Cook, Guy Davis, Nate Pride & Jason Shawn Alexander (Archaia)
  • Incorruptible #9, by Mark Waid & Horacio Domingues (Boom)
  • Hellboy: The Storm #3 of 3, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #46, by Garth Ennis & Russ Braun (Dynamite)

This Week:

  • American Vampire #6, by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque (DC/Vertigo)
  • Batman and Robin #14, by Grant Morrison & Frazer Irving (DC)
  • Green Lantern #57, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Wolverine: Old Man Logan TPB, by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven (Marvel)
  • Irredeemable #17, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • The Sixth Gun #4, by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni)
The second half of Astro City‘s Silver Agent story came out last week, and it wraps up (or winds down?) the story of the Agent, one of the tragic figures in the city’s history, and one of the most-anticipated mysteries from the early days of the series. But I was a little disappointed, not for the reasons Greg Burgas was in that I think he doesn’t see that the Agent’s point of view is just as interesting as the man-in-the-street’s (or, at least, he doesn’t think it’s as interesting), but that it feels like it wasn’t quite worthy of all the attention and build-up.

To be fair, the fact that Astro City has been on an erratic publishing schedule for a decade, and that The Dark Age initially seemed to promise to be the Agent’s story but ended up being something else, perhaps build up anticipation for the Agent’s story way beyond what it deserved. And yet.

Having in the first half seen the Agent (a Captain America character) being saved by a Legion of Super-Heroes type group from the future, now we see him walking back through time to meet his eventually end in the electric chair, and excerpts of his experiences along the way, with a focus on his last two visits, with his nephew. And he does meet his end, but in a weirdly ambiguous way, which seems like it can only be satisfying if it’s the seed for further revelations about Astro City in the future, since it suggests things about the source of the Agent’s powers which aren’t really meaningful in isolation.

I think what I feel is missing from this story is that the world at large felt a great deal of guilt over the Agent’s wrongful execution (which is why they erected the statue, after all), but given that this is a time travel story, I was very disappointed that there’s no interaction between him and the world in the future in which both he and they (obviously representatives of those who convicted and executed him) deal with the issue. He comes to terms with his fate, but the rest of the world doesn’t, and while maybe that’s a lost cause, the fact that this is a time travel story and there’s not even an attempt to try makes it feel like the whole story has been dramatically undermined.

At his core, the Agent is a symbol to Astro City: First, a symbol of the greatness of the silver age, and later, a symbol of the shame of what the city went through in the dark age. While this story focuses on the agent as a man and not a symbol (other than as a symbol out of distant memory in the far future, which is not the same thing), a satisfying treatment of the character I think needed to address both sides, and that’s missing here.

The story is itself fine, and we get a lot of tantalizing glimpses of the future of the world, but I think it went off-track in some basic way, and ended up being less than it should have been.

I’m not quite sure what I think of the finale of Hercules: Twilight of a God. Though it’s refreshing in a way that the title is absolutely truthful: This is the chronicle of the last days of Hercules, in Bob Layton’s future-outer-space milieu. Having suffered brain damage, and with his comrades from his earlier adventures in their own old age, Herc is called on for one final task, to prevent Galactus – who is collapsing into a black hole – from destroying the galactic region where Herc has made his home and spawned a family. He completes his quest, and we see the aftermath and denouement of his adventure. While it’s a glorious end, it also feels rather anticlimactic; Hercules in his dotage is not nearly as entertaining as Hercules in his prime, and the sense of foreboding and gloom surrounding this story is just not as much fun as the earlier tales (especially the second mini-series, chronicling the fall of the Olympians, which was itself a bit gloomy yet was a much better story).

So there’s stuff to like here, but… it’s not the same. And it’s also clearly the end of this series of Hercules adventures, which is in itself saddening.

Ron Lim’s art is okay, but it feels stiff, and not as dynamic as Layton’s own art on the original stories. Sometimes Lim can be quite a good artist, but it feels like he phoned this one in.

I’ll put this series on the shelf next to the nice hardcover copy of Herc’s earlier adventures, but it’s not really the same.

Hey look, I bought something written by Mark Millar this week!

I kvetch about Millar a lot. I think he’s one of the worst writers working in comics these days, and I feel no shame in kvetching because he’s also one of the most popular and successful writers in comics these days. It makes no sense to me, but, well, it’s not the only thing. My basic problem with Millar is that I think his stories are mean-spirited and un-fun, and he frequently just misses the mark in depicting existing characters. I loathed his gratuitously nasty run on The Authority, I hated his depiction of guys who happened to be wearing Avengers costumes in The Ultimates, and I hated pretty much everything about Civil War.

But I was still moved to pick up Wolverine: Old Man Logan, and frankly the main reason is that I’m just a sucker for alternate-future stories. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, but I read most of them (at least featuring characters I’m familiar with) because I just like the genre.

The premise of this one is so simple you can almost see Millar thinking it up: One day all the super-villains team up to take down all the super-heroes, and the ringleaders divide up the United States among themselves. Naturally, a few heroes survive, and 50 years later, Wolverine is living outside Sacramento, an old man who refuses to fight anymore, having been broken in the villain attack. But when the Hulk gang demands their rent, he hooks up with Hawkeye to drive across the country to deliver a package in Washington.

So the story is mostly a travelogue in which we see what happened to the heroes and the country, and learn what happened to Logan.

Considering my biggest problem with Millar is usually that he can’t get characterizations right, he nails Wolverine here, as a broken yet still strong-minded man. The story wouldn’t work at all if he hadn’t made Wolverine work. On the other hand, the story is thin, little more than a reworking of films like Unforgiven, with the Marvel Universe future-travelogue stuff thrown in.

Indeed, almost everywhere you look in Old Man Logan you can see bits that feel lifted from other stories: The Hulk as a tyrant whose creed is that he survives when the weak die (from Peter David’s excellent Hulk: Future Imperfect), Hawkeye being blind (from another David yarn, The Last Avengers Story), the Red Skull’s trophy room (also from Future Imperfect), and one of the signature spreads of art in the story, that of a gargantuan skeleton of Goliath lying outside a city, feels like it came right out of Warren Ellis’ Planetary. A lot of what would otherwise be “the neat stuff” has been done before.

Besides that, the story is decent enough. My biggest gripe in terms of characters is the notion that the Hulk would mate with his cousin, the She-Hulk, and produce a clan of hillbilly enforcers. This so runs against the grain of Bruce Banner and Jennifer Walters’ characters that although the final visuals are cute (Steve McNiven draws some ugly-looking redneck Hulklings) it seems gratuitous and implausible. And while the story’s climax is cathartic, it doesn’t really work if you think about it, either.

McNiven is a terrific artist – he was certainly the best part of Civil War – and there’s really nothing to complain about in any aspect of his work. While his style has echoes of John Cassaday and Gary Frank, I’d say he’s better than either of them, with more intricate designs than Cassaday, a better sense of anatomy than Frank, and more dynamic layouts and figures than either of them. Unfortunately he seems to be a bit too slow of an artist to maintain a monthly schedule, because he has all the tools to be one of the greatest comics artists of his generation.

So all-in-all Old Man Logan may be the best Millar story I’ve read, but it’s still merely okay. At least it’s not downright repugnant like other stuff I’ve read by him, so maybe this is the first of several steps forward.

Is The Sixth Gun the best comic being published today? That’s high praise, and frankly it’s hard to make a firm decision, but wow, it’s awfully good. This Old West supernatural horror adventure (that’s a mouthful!) involves a Confederate general who – we learn in this issue – somehow got hold of six enchanted handguns for himself and his five henchmen. One of his posse, Sinclair, decided this was too much for him and bolted, managing to escape the General’s revenge. At some later point the General was defeated and imprisoned, having somehow become immensely powerful in the meantime. Now he’s back and he’s looking for his gun, now in the possession of Becky, the daughter of the reverend who apparently took down the General.

The comic’s full of foreboding, supernatural conflict, and mystical beings hanging out in the Old West, and features a pair of strong female characters in Becky (coming to grips with the position she’s been put in) and the General’s wife, who matches her husband in ambition and spirit. The backstory is being revealed slowly – but not so slowly as to be frustrating – and it’s not yet clear exactly what stakes are being played for (just how powerful will the General be once he recovers from his imprisonment and if he gets his gun back?). But just four issues in The Sixth Gun has covered more ground than many comics today cover in a dozen (I’m looking at you RASL). And Brian Hurtt’s artwork is terrific, cartoony in the sense that Charles Addams’ work was cartoony, but still dramatic and menacing. His style might not translate into mainstream superhero comics (where he’d surely earn a lot more money), but it’s perfect here.

The only downside is that I don’t know if this is a mini-series or an ongoing series. The story doesn’t feel like it’s poised to end in a couple of issues, but you never know. Nevertheless, this series is a lot of fun: Go buy it.

This Week’s Haul

  • Adventure Comics #526, by Paul Levitz, Kevin Sharpe & Marlo Alquiza, and Jeff Lemire, Mahmud A. Asrar & John Dell (DC)
  • Astro City Special: Silver Agent #1 of 2, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • The Brave and the Bold #35, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Superman #701, by J. Michael Straczynski, Eddy Barrow & J.P. Mayer (DC)
  • The Unwritten #15, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Echo #23, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Age of Reptiles: The Journey #4 of 4, by Ricardo Delgado (Dark Horse)
  • The Mystery Society #2, by Steve Niles & Fiona Staples (IDW)
  • Chew #12, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
  • The Sixth Gun #1 & #2, by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni)
Okay, I get the idea (after all of 2 issues): Adventure Comics is going to have little stories about the Legion of Super-Heroes past (well, relative to the regular Legion comic). This is too trivial for me to care about, especially since the Paul Levitz Legion has never been all that to me. (The Jim Shooter Legion it ain’t.) This issue especially annoys me because I’m dreadfully tired of Brainiac 5 being portrayed as essentially a cranky old Vulcan. I also loathe the faux-Russian speech mannerisms of the Legion’s late benefactor R.J. Brande here. Bad stuff.

This issue also had an Atom back-up that lost me after about 2 pages.

This series isn’t worth bothering with, so I’ll be sticking to the main series from here on out.

On the other hand, the new Astro City is a 2-parter focusing on the Silver Agent. The Agent was introduced early in the series via a statue of the man with the words “To Our Eternal Shame” on the plaque. We saw more of him in The Dark Age as his fate marked the end of the silver age in Astro City and the beginning of that dark age. But that wasn’t the end of the character.

In a nutshell, you could describe the premise of the character thus: What is Captain America were framed for murder, and was executed (with the public’s approval) before the truth came out? But what if just before the execution, he was rescued by the Legion of Super-Heroes, who pulled him forward to the future to help them in a war of their own? And what if he then had to weigh the decision to live the rest of his life in the future, or to return to meet the fate history had laid out for him?

That’s this issue (along with his origin). And it’s really good. The Dark Age felt like it meandered around too much, and this issue feels like it’s getting back the focus the series has otherwise always had. Next issue, well, I’m hoping Busiek and Anderson knock it out of the park, because it’s what we’ve been waiting for for a long, long time.

(And how awesome is the logo on the cover? It looks like it came right off a Marvel comic from the 1960s!)

Getting back to the chaff, J. Michael Straczynski’s The Brave and the Bold has been generally pretty bad, although seeing Jesus Saiz develop as an artist has been nice. But this issue is awful, as the Legion of Substitute Heroes and the Inferior Five “team up” to try to save the world – from the same menace the Legion of Super-Heroes and the Doom Patrol saved it from last issue, explaining a few mysteries from last issue. It’s supposed to be funny, but it’s anything but. It’s actually rather embarrassing. I’m not really sure why people think the Subs are best used as comical figures, since every attempt to write a funny story with them has been just awful. They were used much better in Geoff Johns’ “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” story a couple of years back. Sure, they’re second-stringers, but in a sense that just means they have to try harder. Making fun of them is, well, no fun at al. As for the Inferior Five, well, if ever there was a joke whose time has long since passed, they’re it.

I don’t think I can stand any more of this series, so I’m hitting the eject button.

In a way it’s too bad, because the first year of this series, by Mark Waid and George Pérez, was excellent (especially the first 6 issues), but it really went downhill quickly after that. Nothing really memorable other than the Green Lantern/Spectre issues, which were enjoyable enough.

And speaking of J. Michael Straczynski, Superman #701 is the real first chapter of his series “Grounded”. Superman doesn’t entirely stay on the ground, but he walks across the country to interact with people on their level. It’s basically full of Straczynski clichés: The slightly-too-sentimental rescues, the humor that fails badly, the out-of-place and rather tedious philosophical asides. It’s not quite as bad as all that, but it feels downright trivial, and very much unlike a Superman story. As I said last month, I don’t think Straczynski really gets superhero comics, since none of his really seem to work (other than The Twelve, in which the fact that the characters were superheroes was almost incidental to the story).

The story will need to shift in tone sharply next issue, because this premise as depicted here just doesn’t have legs (so to speak).

John Cassaday’s cover has been getting a lot of favorable reviews, but I think he’s done much better work. The composition is nothing special, and it looks like there’s something wrong with Supes’ head and neck.

A larger disappointment has been the new Age of Reptiles mini-series. The first two series were great stuff, telling actual stories about dinosaurs without anthropomorphizing them too much (just enough to make them a little more sympathetic – or not – to the readers). You could argue that Ricardo Delgado framed everything to make a story out of it.

But The Journey has been more a series of vignettes, without an actual story. Or if there was one, then it was too subtle or too buried for me to pick up on it. So although lavishly illustrated, it hasn’t been a very satisfying read. I got to the end of this issue and scratched my head wondering exactly what the point was. Okay, drawing dinosaurs may be a point in itself, but really this was a big letdown compared to the first two series.

Finally, The Sixth Gun premiered as a Free Comic Book Day giveaway, and the first two issues both came out this week. (The first issue is essentially identical to the FCBD issue.) It’s quite good, being a supernatural horror story set in the old west: An old Confederate general is raised from the grave (if he ever really went there in the first place) and wants his gun back. But his gun is bonded to the daughter of the man who stole it from him, and she’s being spirited away by one of the General’s former posse, whose motivations are still murky.

There’s violence, mayhem, dark magic, ghosts, and all kinds of good stuff, and Brian Hurtt’s art is excellent, expressive and nuanced despite his fundamentally simple style. Overall this is a nice package and a fun read. I’m looking forward to more.