- Action Comics #870, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC)
- Avengers/Invaders #5 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Steve Sadowski & Patrick Berkenkotter (Marvel)
- The Twelve #8 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski & Chris Weston (Marvel)
- B.P.R.D.: The Warning #4 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
- The End League #5, by Rick Remender & Eric Canete (Dark Horse)
- Final Crisis #3 of 7, by Grant Morrison & J.G. Jones (DC)
- Avengers/Invaders #4 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Steve Sadowski (Marvel)
- Hulk #5, by Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuinness (Marvel)
- The Twelve #7 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Weston & Garry Leach (Marvel)
- Echo #5, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
- The Boys #21, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
- Star Trek: Assignment Earth #4 of 12, by John Byrne (IDW)
I’m not sure two reviews of Final Crisis #3 could be more different than Brian Cronin’s and what I’m about to write. Cronin loved it, while I, well, didn’t.
Almost everything Morrison does here is either boring, or has been done before. A few people seem to be impressed with how he’s handling bringing back Barry Allen (the silver age Flash), but c’mon, it’s not like Barry hasn’t been popping up from time to time for the last 20 years anyway. The guy’s a time traveller! Maybe he’s back for good, but – so? Hal Jordan (the silver age Green Lantern) died, and came back not once (as the Spectre) but twice (as Green Lantern again, complete with his own ongoing series). There’s nothing in this to get even a little excited about.
Almost everything in the series feels like it’s been done before. The running subplot involves bringing back characters from Morrison’s Seven Soldiers series (and what a mess of a narrative that was). The main threat is of Darkseid and his minions of Apokolips conquering the world – “the day that evil won” as the series’ tag line goes. But Morrison used this exact same premise – and used it very well – in his own run on JLA a decade ago!
This issue also features the conscription of superheroes to fight the threat, hearkening back to the formation of the All-Star Squadron (which is explicitly referenced), but doing so makes no sense: Far direr threats have arisen in the DC universe in the past without resorting to such measures. Why this, why now? History suggests that simply putting out the call to all hands would be sufficient – these are the DC heroes, after all.
This series is just one instance after another of things that either don’t make sense, or just aren’t fun or exciting or thought-provoking. The longer Final Crisis goes on, the more pointless it seems. If this really is the “final crisis” of the DC universe, it’s because the concept has jumped the shark – there are no more interesting crises to tell.
Alex Ross/Jim Krueger projects don’t have a good track record in my estimation, going all the way back to my bitter disappointment with Earth X, but I keep trying them out anyway. Project Superpowers over at Dynamite has been pretty awful, but to my surprise I’m rather enjoying Avengers/Invaders. The premise is that the Invaders from World War II – Captain America and Bucky, the Human Torch and Toro, and Namor the Sub-Mariner – have been accidentally brought forward to 2008 New York City, along with (and without their knowledge) a US soldier of that era. This is problematic since in the present Marvel Universe, Cap is dead, Bucky is the new Cap, Namor is King of Atlantis and has withdrawn from the surface world, and, well, I don’t know what the status of the Human Torch and Toro are, since it seems like it changes every few years. Moreover, the Invaders think this is all some Nazi plot, especially since Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. capture them while trying to figure out how to return them to their own time. And frankly, after the Civil War I can’t really fault anyone for accusing Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. of being Nazis. Anyway, two groups of Avengers end up fighting over the Invaders which is where this issue leaves off.
I think what’s winning me over with this series is that it’s treating time travel seriously and not as some sort of gimmick: The adult Bucky finds the Invaders Cap’s shield and shows up at the end of this issue, clearly having memories of this adventure. The current Namor also recalls what happened and deliberately sends his younger self off without help from Atlantis to fulfill his destiny. And the soldier meets his future self – who’s nearly 90 years old – and compares notes. It’s all played for drama rather than convenience, and with the hint that the Invaders’ removal has also changed history, with dire consequences on the way once the changes catch up to the current day.
Admittedly, none of this is especially original, but it’s a lot less ponderous than the usual Ross/Krueger fare, with good art by Steve Sadowski. 12 issues might end up being too long if there aren’t some new plot twists in store, but so far, so good.
Speaking of heroes transported from World War II to the present day, J. Michael Straczynski’s The Twelve starts its second half this month. Like Ross, Straczynski’s another comics writer whose stuff I find to be too slow without much ever happening. (His current run on Thor is a perfect example of this.) The Twelve isn’t exactly gripping, but the mix of plot (which is shaping up to be a murder mystery of sorts) and drama (the heroes meeting their old – now very old – friends and their descendants) is nonetheless engaging. The gorgeous artwork by Weston and Leach helps quite a bit, too.
This issue continues the theme of characters reconnecting with their past 63 years later, as Captain Wonder meets his former sidekick, Tim, now an old man. The guy’s hard a rough time of it, as his wife and sons all died before he was revived. But the ongoing story makes some progress as Master Mind Excello tells the Phantom Reporter of some premonitions he’s had regarding the group, and the Reporter both investigates a murder in the city and then confronts the Black Widow about her nighttime excursions.
There are lots of hints that funny things are going on: Dynamic Man might be involved in the aforementioned murder, the Widow is being used by some demon as an angel of vengeance, and the inert robot Electro apparently has been wandering off as well, but who’s been doing what is still unclear.
The main thing I regret about this series is that the cast feels too large for its scope, as several characters seem both fairly generic and don’t get much screen time, which makes me wonder why they’re there. With five issues left to go perhaps they’ll play a role. But although the series superficially feels a bit like Watchmen, the storytelling is pretty standard and not very dense, so there’s only a limited amount of space per issue to tell the story, so perhaps not. Still, I’m certainly enjoying it enough to want to see how it turns out.
I’m still enjoying The Boys, Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson’s brutal take on amoral superheroes, but the current story, “I Tell You No Lie G.I.”, has been somewhat disappointing. Early on it seemed like the world was overrun by superheroes, who mostly (maybe entirely) got their powers from a special drug which seemed to have gotten leaked to many companies and governments able to produce these supers, and The Boys were a covert group trying to rein in the worst abuses, especially a few corporate-run American superheroes.
This story reveals a lot of the series’ backstory, and the book’s scope is narrowing to being a conspiracy story: The drug which creates heroes is mainly controlled by a single company (Vought American), which is using it to become a major player on the national and world stage. I find this disappointing because giving the heroes a major villain and target (Vought American) seems just too simplistic; having a few foes who are representative of the larger problems – but a problem which is too big to be tackled by a single covert team – would be much more interesting, I think. The series is feeling more and more like Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, only with superpowers and some gratuitous sex and violence (well, okay, even more gratuitous sex and violence than in Transmet).
Or maybe I’m just tired of this sort of conspiracy story.
A little late this week:
- Action Comics #866, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC)
- Booster Gold #10, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
- Salvation Run #7 of 7, by Matt Stuirges, Sean Chen, Walden Wong & Wayne Faucher (DC)
- ClanDestine #5 of 5, by Alan Davis & Mark Farmer (Marvel)
- newuniversal: shockfront #2 of 6, by Warren Ellis, Steve Kuth & Andrew Hennessey (Marvel)
- The Twelve #6 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Weston & Garry Leach (Marvel)
- B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #1, by John Arcudi, Herb Trimpe & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
- Locke & Key #5 of 6, by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
- Invincible #50, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Geoff Johns’ next major story in Action Comics is “Brainiac” – but which one? Honestly I gave up reading Superman in the early 90s before they had really figured out who the post-Crisis Brainiac was. But it seems like Johns’ goal with his run on this book is to redefine some elements of the Superman mythos. So it looks like Brainiac is back to being an alien who captured the Kryptonian city of Kandor years ago. He appears to be a green alien who operates out of a skull-shaped metal ship. But he also appears to have tangled with Superman before, and operates through robot proxies.
My bet? That the alien in the ship isn’t really Brainiac – he’s probably been captured by the ship itself. Who has Superman fought before? Beats me. Maybe offshoots or other instances of the ship – if it’s a machine who says there has to be only one?
The issue has a fun interlude in which the Daily Planet staff has a meeting. Some of it feels a little forced (okay, mostly I haven’t really liked any portrayals of Steve Lombard since Julie Schwartz retired), but has some funny moments, especially the interplay between Lois and Clark afterwards. (I’m also really glad Lois is back to having black hair; I thought it was ridiculous when John Byrne turned her hair brown.) Superhero comics spend so much time on the action and so little on the characters these days, especially the ones who have secret identities.
As usual, Gary Frank’s art is nifty, although also as usual the backgrounds feel rather sparse. I enjoyed his renditions of the Brainiac robots the most, he’s taken the old Gil Kane designs to a new level.
Salvation Run ends – not really a surprise – with a whimper and not a bang. Several fourth-string super-villains bite the dust, Luthor gets his mad on, and the status quo is restored, except for one character who’s left hanging at the end. It doesn’t mesh very well with Final Crisis, but it also slipped until it shipped after the first issue of that series. Grant Morrison pretty much says that he didn’t factor Countdown or its spin-offs into Final Crisis, which mostly makes DC editorial look like a bunch of chumps, although it’s difficult to shed any tears over Countdown, which as I’ve said was pretty much a complete disaster of a series. It makes the end of Salvation Run seem even more superfluous.
I’ve been an admirer of Sean Chen’s artwork in the past, but his work on this series was pretty mediocre: Not much detail, and I don’t think his renditions of Luthor and the Joker are very true. I don’t know if he was rushed, of if his inkers were just not good matches for him, but it was pretty disappointing. Especially since he left Nova to do this series. Sadly, with the art factored in, this series ended up being pretty much a waste of time.
This ClanDestine mini-series felt like a straightforward continuation of the old series, which is awkward since it’s been over a decade since the first series came out, and it didn’t last very long, so I imagine there weren’t many people scrambling on board to read it. And I guess it didn’t do very well in the sales department. Moreover, it brought back the old Alan Davis X-Men team Excalibur and otherwise rehashed a villain from the first series, and also the background of Adam Destine, complete with the requisite deus-ex-machina (since Adam is pretty much a walking deus-ex-machina).
All of which made this series something of a “shrug”, albeit an extremely well-drawn “shrug”. It ends with a teaser for a third series which I’d be much more interested in reading, but I bet the sales won’t cause Marvel to rush out to publish it. Alas, I think the time for ClanDestine passed some time ago.
The Twelve is shaping up to be one of J. Michael Straczynski’s best comics works, behind Midnight Nation. This is not strong praise on its own, since you may have noticed that I’ve been lukewarm-at-best towards all the other Straczynski comics I’ve read, but in this case I’m actually enjoying the book quite a bit. It helps that the art team of Weston and Leach have given the book a visual look unlike most other mainstream comics, with details and character designs few other artists at the big two can match.
The first six issues of the series have mostly been character spotlights, showing what makes each member of the Twelve tick, and how they react to being thrown from the end days of World War II to the 21st century. Not all of the characters are interesting – Mister E, for instance, is pretty much a nonentity – but some of them are quite good, and Straczynski has thrown in a few enjoyable twists, especially regarding Dynamic Man and – in this issue – Rockman. I was also satisfied with the explanation for my concern about Electro, which I expressed in my review of issue #1.
I think these first six issues have set the tone for the series and put all the pieces in place, and now I expect the second six will bring things together into a unified story, presumably as one or more of the characters either end up being a threat, or being not what they seem to be. Or maybe in some other way. Regardless, pulling everyone into a single story and not leaving them with twelve separate threads will be the difference between the success or the failure of this series, I think. Although admittedly Straczynski could surprise us all and do something unexpected yet still fascinating. His track record in comics writing doesn’t suggest that that’s likely, however.
Really, The Twelve is the latest series to follow the Watchmen approach to super-team storytelling: Take us through the backgrounds and circumstances of a group of individual characters, and then bring them together at the end. James Robinson’s The Golden Age worked in a similar manner. Even after 20 years, it’s still not a very common approach to superhero comics, so it still feels relatively fresh whenever it pops up. That’s probably a big part of why I’m enjoying The Twelve.
Invincible really might be the best superhero comic being published – as it pretty much claims on the cover – even on the erratic schedule it’s been on recently. It reaches #50 this month, marking another turning point in a series which has had plenty of them, as Invincible cuts ties with his government boss in a rather bloody manner.
Invincible is great for so many reason: The main character is a through-and-through hero, which is refreshing these days, even if he does have his flaws and foibles. He means well, and he usually does well, and people respect him for that. The supporting cast vary widely, and few of them are out-and-out villains, usually with personal motivations which make them sometimes do good, and sometimes behave suspiciously. Alliances shift, and characters change and develop. And that’s the best thing: Even though it’s an ongoing, open-ended story, there’s a definite sense of change and progress unlike almost any other superhero book out there. You never know what’s going to happen next, but when it does it’s usually both exciting and it makes sense.
Artist Ryan Ottley keeps up with Kirkman’s script wonderfully, with dramatic action sequences, different-looking characters, and a colorful world. In some ways his art reminds me of Michael Avon Oeming (of Powers), but I think Ottley balances the realistic and the cartoony much better.
50 issues under their belt, and Kirkman still has plenty of irons in the fire for this character. Here’s hoping the next 50 are just as much fun.
Comic books I bought the week of 9 January 2008.
- Countdown to Final Crisis #16 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Keith Giffen, Pete Woods, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher (DC)
- Salvation Run #3 of 7, by Matthew Sturges, Sean Chen & Walden Wong (DC)
- Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #5 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
- Hulk #1, by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines (Marvel)
- Nova #10, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves, Wellington Diaz & Nelson Pereira (Marvel)
- The Twelve #1 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Weston & Garry Leach (Marvel)
- MythAdventures! HC, by Robert Asprin, Phil Foglio & Tim Sale (Airship)
- B.P.R.D.: 1946, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart & Paul Azaceta (Dark Horse)
- The Boys #14, by Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson & Peter Snejbjerg (Dynamite)
In the wake of World War Hulk, Marvel launched the fourth Hulk series with a new #1 issue. This time the series’ hook is that there’s a red Hulk, and the mystery is: Who is it? I thumbed through the book and liked Ed McGuinness’s artwork, and also the kicker that this Hulk apparently is using firearms, which is a little unusual for him. So I decided to pick it up.
But closer reading makes it a lot less impressive. First of all, Jeph Loeb’s characterization of Doc Samson and the She-Hulk feels fundamentally off, with both of them seeming to possess hair-trigger personalities and a general air of grumpiness, which doesn’t track with their earlier behavior. Second, it looks like the new Hulk is probably going to be the usual suspect (Rick Jones), which would not only be lame, but would be essentially a rehash of Peter David’s earliest Hulk stories, 20 years ago (!). Lastly, the heroes go to consult with someone who knows something about the Hulk – Bruce Banner, currently under tight lockup. This seems directly at odds with the end of World War Hulk when Banner seemed to be presumed dead or at least in a coma. Not that I expected him to be dead, but how did he get from there to here?
Overall the writing seems extremely sloppy, and the set-up doesn’t seem promising. The art is still nice – McGuinness has developed pretty nicely since his days on Superman/Batman – but this book will have to shape up in a hurry or I’ll likely be done with it by issue #4.
I’ve written before about my frustrations with J. Michael Straczynski’s comic books, but I keep buying them anyway, since they always sound interesting. It’s the execution where they fall flat.
The Twelve features 12 obscure heroes from the 1940s who were published by Timely Comics (which later evolved into modern-day Marvel Comics) but who have basically been forgotten (I’d never heard of any of them before now). The premise is that at the end of World War II, superheroes descended on Berlin to help finish off the Nazis, but a random group of 12 heroes were tricked and captured by the Nazis and put into suspended animation so they could be studied. However, the Nazis in question were themselves captured by the Russians and the heroes were forgotten – until a construction project in 2008 unearths them. Shipped back to the US, the government decides to reawaken them, and enlist them as government heroes, a proposal the heroes all accept at the end of the first issue (with the exception of Elektro, who was a nonsentient robot controlled remotely by his now-deceased creator and who therefore couldn’t vote). The first issue ends with a glimpse of the future in which it appears that one of the Twelve will kill another of the Twelve.
The premise is promising, and hopefully having a 12-issue limited series will help Straczynski avoid his achilles heel as a comics writer: He writes long, drawn-out story arcs in which nothing happens for a lengthy period of time (his current work on Thor has this problem in spades, as I’ve said in previous entries). Of course, having a 24-issue limited series didn’t stop his Rising Stars series from being terrible and mostly boring. And the end of this first issue is reminiscent of the first issue of that series, so that’s not very encouraging. But I have hope that this will be a solid and entertaining series, so unless it really goes into the tank early, I’m basically signing up for the whole thing, good or bad.
The series takes place in the Marvel universe, so the heroes have woken up in the wake of the Civil War, which may put an unfortunate spin on the story (since I hate almost everything associated with the Civil War). Few of the heroes have any substantial powers, either, and reportedly the point-of-view character will be the Phantom Detective, who is one of those unpowered heroes (he seems to be in the mold of DC’s Crimson Avenger or Sandman characters from the 40s). So I wonder how this series will tie into the rest of the Marvel universe. Captain America is currently dead, so he can’t come meet the heroes to give them the benefit of his experience, and Bucky (a.k.a. the Winter Soldier) has an unusual position among Marvel heroes and I would guess is also not likely to show up. So the heroes apparently will mainly be dealing with the government and the military, groups which Straczynski tends to view with deep cynicism (and a lot less subtlety than, for instance, Robert Kirkman does in Invincible. If Straczynski really wants to make this a good comic, he’ll portray the government less cynically than he usually does.
The story does have one apparent hole in it: The controller of Elektro lost contact with his robot just as the Nazis trapped the heroes, yet he should have known almost exactly where they were, and have been able to have told someone at the time. Did he? If he did, why weren’t they rescued? Did he not? If not, then why not? Explaining this will have to be one of the steps of the series or the whole thing will have a big hole in it.
Anyway, the story shows promise, but it’s the art by Chris Weston and Garry Leach (man, how long as it been since I first saw Leach’s art on Miracleman?) that really makes it worthwhile. I’ve been impressed with Weston’s art the few times I’ve seen it before (for example, in Ministry of Space), and it’s just as good here: Detailed, stylistic, and he has a real facility for drawing faces with distinctive appearances and diverse expressions, as well as making great use of blacks and of whitespace. His weakness is that his poses tend to be a bit stiff (one page of Captain Wonder in action late in this issue unfortunately really exposes this), but superhero comics have a lengthy history of stiff poses (not everyone can be John Buscema, after all), so I think the series can overcome this. (And heck, for all I know that’s the one page that Weston had to pencil under deadline pressure, so maybe it’s an anomaly.)
Despite my reservations, obviously I find The Twelve to have enough depth to be worthy of a lengthy review, so I’m actually looking forward to the rest of the series. If I carp a lot about Straczynski’s comics, it really is because I feel like he ought to be able to do so much better, and that his ideas are too good to be shortchanged by the plodding pace he often employs. So here’s hoping The Twelve is a big exception to the pattern.
It’s no secret that Phil Foglio is one of my favoritest comics artists, and his studio just reprinted one of his earliest works in a slick, high-quality hardcover edition. MythAdventures! adapts the first volume of Robert Asprin’s series of humorous novels of the same name. Skeeve is an apprentice to the wizard Garkin, but he’s not very good: He can levitate things and almost light a candle. But when Garkin tries to show Skeeve what wizardry is all about by summoning a demon, an assassin shows up and offs the wizard. The ‘demon’ turns out to be a dimensional traveller named Aahz, who apprentices Skeeve as they set out to avenge Garkin’s death.
That synopsis doesn’t come anywhere close to doing the book justice: This is Foglio at his riotous best, with slapstick humor, rampant wordplay, off-the-wall drawings, and action and adventure. When I read the first series in the 1980s, I don’t think I’d ever read a comic book that made me laugh so hard, and I still giggle when I read it today. That the book has so many silly, off-the-wall elements and yet still tells a coherent story is just amazing.
(The story in the comic book deviates significantly from the original novel, Another Fine Myth. I enjoyed Asprin’s original series quite a bit, but it took a few books for it to really hit its stride; I think the best volume is the fifth, Little Myth Marker. Foglio’s adaptation works within the original book’s basic framework, but he makes it more fully his own work with a very loose adaptation. Overall I think it’s a win, but don’t read one and expect the other to be much like it. They’re quite different.)
The hardcover book is a little pricy (retails for $54.95), but it’s worth it (though you could instead opt for the paperback edition). Either way, I think you’ll find this book to just be a bushel of fun.
(Oh, this collection also features some of Tim Sale’s earliest work, as an inker, long before he made his name drawing Batman stories written by Jeph Loeb, or even Grendel stories written by Matt Wagner. I mostly like him better as an inker than a penciller, but that’s just my personal taste.)