This Week’s Haul

Actually 2 weeks’ worth of stuff, since I was on vacation for a week:

  • Astro City: Astra #1 of 2, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Green Lantern #46, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #31, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #15, by Matt Wagner & Michael Wm. Kaluta (DC/Vertigo)
  • Power Girl #5, by Jimmy Palmotti, Justin Gray & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Sleeper: Season Two TPB, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Wednesday Comics#12 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Immortal Weapons #3 of 5, by Rick Spears & Tim Green II, and Duane Swierczynski & Hatuey Diaz (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #18, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Wesley Craig (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #135, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
  • Nova #29, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Kevin Sharpe & Nelson Pereira (Marvel)
  • Echo #15, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • The Pound #1, by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #1 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Invincible #66, by Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker (Image)
Astro City: Astra #1 If you haven’t read Astro City before, or the long delays in publishing The Dark Age have put you off it (or if you just didn’t like it, which I could believe), then this 2-part special Astra is a good point to jump on. Astra is the daughter in a Fantastic Four-type team of superheroes, having previously appeared as a young girl in a good 2-parter a decade ago. Well, now she’s all grown up and is graduating from college, trying to figure out what she wants to do next. You’d think this would be easy for a world-famous superheroine and theoretical in-line-for-the-throne of two exotic kingdoms, but it’s more complicated than that for Astra. This story is very much in keeping with Kurt Busiek’s explorations of the personal nature of living in a world with superheroes.

As Mike Sterling notes, the cover of this issue isn’t a great advertisement for people seeking out the comic; it’s a cute idea, but for a series now trying to reestablish itself on a regular schedule, they should have gone with something more traditional.

Sleeper: Season Two I quite liked the first volume of Sleeper, so I snapped up the second volume as soon as it came out. The first was about a superpowered character, Holden Carver, who was put into deep cover by his spy organization into an international crime organization, but when his boss went into a coma he was left on his own and had to grapple with the fact that he probably wasn’t going to come in from the cold but he wasn’t one of the bad guys either, even though he started to befriend several of them. At the end of that volume, two things had happened: He had pretty much given up on ever coming back to the side of the good guys and had risen in the ranks of the crime group, and his former boss came out of his coma.

So while the first volume followed Carver’s descent into darkness as he adjusted to being on the side of the devils, the second volume dangles hope of redemption in front of him, even as he realizes that the guys he used to work for weren’t exactly angels themselves, and that the only way out is to somehow get away from both of them – a good trick since the leaders of both groups are highly talented planners and manipulators who are using him as a double agent to get at each other.

Although the novelty of the idea has worn off by this volume, Ed Brubaker still spins an intense yarn as Carver plays both ends against the middle in an intensely dangerous game, trying to out-think the thinkers, and bringing the series to its conclusion. As I said in the first volume, it required a big finish, and it gets one, although Carver’s ultimate fate ends up being a little disappointing (Zack Overkill’s ending in Incognito was much more satisfying). But Brubaker’s hard-edged plotting means he really has few options available unless he decides to change some of the rules at the last minute, which isn’t the sort of thing he does; Brubaker always does his best to play fair with his readers. Sean Phillips’ art is terrific, as always, not too flashy (and the super-beings in the story don’t have flashy powers), and very, very dark, as befits the story. If you like Michael Gaydos’ artwork (e.g., on Marvel’s Alias), well, Phillips’ is all that and a lot more.

Sleeper might be Brubaker’s best work, but not by much; Criminal and Incognito were both very good, too. In any event, if you like dark superhero stories and criminal noir yarns, then you should definitely check out Sleeper. It took a while, but Brubaker’s definitely won me over as a fan.

(Hmm, I wonder if this means I should check out Brubaker’s mainstream work for Marvel? I read X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire and thought it was okay, but his Captain America series has been very well received and I haven’t done more than thumb through that.)

Wednesday Comics #12 With the final issue of Wednesday Comics, I’ll run down the series, in order from what I think was best to worst:

  1. Flash: Clearly the top of the class of the series, Karl Kerschl played around with story structure, sometimes a little too much, and the ending felt abrupt and a little confusing. However, his artwork was solid-to-excellent, and his handling of the characters of Barry and Iris evoked the Flash’s adventures of the 60s and 70s without feeling dated. I’ve never seen Kershl’s work before, but I’ll keep an eye out for it in the future.
  2. Strange Adventures: I’ve had mixed feelings about Paul Pope’s work in the past, and the first half of the story here felt pretty pedestrian, a straightforward “back to basics” yarn for Adam Strange (who originally was just a step away from being a rip-off of John Carter of Mars). Pope won me over with the second half, with the twist he threw in (Strange is an aged archaeologist on Earth, a young hero on Rann) and how he worked it into the story. He brought it in for a graceful landing, and made me think I’d be happy to read an Adam Strange (or Doctor Fate) series by Pope. Well done.
  3. Supergirl: Jimmy Palmiotti’s story was light and amusing, and had no pretensions of being more than that. Conner seems to be the ideal artist for Palmiotti’s flights of fancy, as we’ve seen in Terra and Power Girl. The last page has a cute twist to it. It’s a big step down from the two stories above, but I still enjoyed it.
  4. Kamandi: I’m not a fan of Jack Kirby’s DC creations, as I’ve said many times before, and Dave Gibbons’ story is trivial and generic. What raises this series above the others is Ryan Sook’s amazing artwork. I’ve seen him develop for a few years now, since his work on Mike Mignola’s Jenny Finn, and this is hands-down the best work he’s ever done. If he’s up for a monthly book, someone ought to pair him with a top-flight writer and put him on a top property, because he’s really that good.
  5. Deadman: An uneven story by a couple of guys I’m not familiar with. It seemed to evoke the Dini/Timm animated cartoons in its look, and it was a pretty straightforward Deadman story overall; it would have fit in well with his shorts in Adventure Comics circa 1980. Pretty good, not great.
  6. The Demon & Catwoman: This story meandered all over the place, and felt like a rehash of any number of Demon stories I’ve already read. Brian Stelfreeze’s art was interesting, since I’ve don’t think I’ve seen him do line art before, just painted work. I’d be happy to see more of it. A few nice moments sprinkled through the otherwise pedestrian script, though.
  7. Green Lantern: A yawner of a script by the usually-reliable Kurt Busiek, although Joe Quinones’ New Frontier-esque art was good. Like the previous story, it had a few good moments sprinkled in, but this was a run-of-the-mill series.
  8. Metal Men: Also run-of-the-mill, which was probably more than most people expected from Dan Didio, whose fiction writing I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Jose Luis Garcia Lopez is always good for some boffo artwork, though.
  9. Sgt. Rock: Utterly routine story by Adam Kubert, with art that looked like it was phoned in by Joe Kubert. Too bad.
  10. Metamorpho: Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred mostly play around with story structure, very self-consciously. The basic story wasn’t very much, and the structural experiments weren’t very interesting to me, so I don’t count this as a big success. A nice try, though.
  11. Hawkman: Mostly-lovely artwork by Kyle Baker completely sunk by his wretched story and awkward script, complete with an abrupt ending. Probably the biggest disappointment in the series.
  12. Teen Titans: A “nice try” of the story with a twist that came too late to save it, and artwork in a style that doesn’t appeal to me, with an unsympathetic coloring job. The last page doesn’t even feel like an ending, and it ends on a cliché.
  13. Batman: Nice Mazzucchelli-esque art, but Azzarello’s script meandered around the edges of the story, going for a noir feel without any of the impact I expect from noir-ish stories. And ultimately I just didn’t care about the story being told, as the characters were too superficial.
  14. Superman: John Arcudi’s story, about aliens making Superman doubt his identity, just felt completely wrong for the character, so wrong that even revealing what was going on didn’t make me believe in it. Lee Bermejo’s art didn’t work for me at all, with a coloring job that made the pictures look ridiculous. This one just missed on every level, and it didn’t even feel like a Superman story. An Atomic Skull story would have been a step up.
  15. Wonder Woman: Ben Caldwell seems pretty talented (this is my first exposure to his work), but his approach to this story didn’t work for me at all: Way too many panels, very little detail, too many words, and layouts that rendered the whole thing basically unreadable. He seemed to be actively working against the format. I think I gave up after the second page.

So what about the package as a whole? Well, it was very uneven, and it was disappointing that only 3 of the 15 stories were more than mediocre, and there were so many that were just blah, indeed that fully a third of them were downright bad (okay, Sturgeon’s Law applies, but still, disappointing). The art in the series was generally good, but the writing really fell down, time after time, either trying and failing to be meaningful (Superman), being too lightweight (Green Lantern, Metal Men, Sgt. Rock), or trying to be clever about working with the format but failing (Batman, Hawkman). The best strips told stories with their own unique twists or structure, which worked within the page-a-week format but weren’t self-conscious about it.

If DC tries an experiment like this again, I doubt I’d pick it up unless it looks like they’re putting a new twist on it, or the stories appear to be significantly better. Overall I don’t think Wednesday Comics was a successful experiment, and I think it will be quickly forgotten. So far DC hasn’t come close to the artistic success of 52 in their later weekly series.

The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #1 Last month, I was disappointed in the ending to the first series of Mark Waid’s The Unknown, as the story ended in an unsatisfying manner. But this first issue of the new series has me excited for what Waid is doing.

In the first series, James Doyle is hired as an assistant and bodyguard to Catherine Allingham, the world’s greatest detective – who has six months to live. Naturally she’s become fascinated by things involving life extension, death, and the soul, perhaps obsessed. In this issue, Doyle is on his own, being hired as a security guard for a park where Allingham will also be present – but Doyle has no memory of meeting her. Moreover, it’s a year later. And Allingham is hiring a new assistant. Doyle starts to regain his memory, and realizes that many things are not right, and he starts investigating why.

This is quite a hook for the series, and explains why the first series was merely set-up; in its way, it’s as big a revelation as the big surprise in Invincible ten issues in, only here it’s the set-up for the story going forward. On top of that, this issue ends on a big cliffhanger.

Waid’s got me. I’m hooked.

This Week’s Haul

  • Batman and Robin #4, by Grant Morrison, Philip Tan & Jonathan Glapion (DC)
  • Blackest Night #3 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #27, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Ex Machina #45, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
  • JSA vs. Kobra #4 of 6, by Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • Hercules: Prince of Power HC, by Bob Layton (Marvel)
  • Wednesday Comics #11, by many hands (DC)
  • Unthinkable #5 of 5, by Mark Sable & Julian Totino Tedesco (Boom)
  • Star Trek: Romulans: Schism #1 of 5, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time #5 of 5, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
The Brave and the Bold #27 J. Michael Straczynski starts his long-awaited run on The Brave and the Bold this month. The comics blogosphere’s reaction to this assignment was basically, “Wait, DC signs one of the biggest names in comics and assigns him to a book whose sales were in a slump the last time big name creators were on it, and has been slogging along through limbo ever since?” B&B was thoroughly Mark Waid’s book, and honestly it should have been cancelled when he left it (although some of the interim stories have been decent). But why put Straczynski on it? Did he request it, to be able to have his own sandbox to play in? Who knows?

The story itself is merely okay. It features Batman and the extremely obscure character from the original Dial H For Hero, and it’s a thin story with a rather simplistic moral about doing something with one’s life.

I’ve written several times before about my criticisms of Straczynski’s comics work, as much as I loved Babylon 5, and this issue is towards the lower end of his comics work. If all he’s going to do in B&B is write a few unconnected stories, then I don’t think it’s going to be worth it. Meanwhile, we’ll see how well he keeps up with the schedule, inasmuch as Thor was consistently shipping late and The Twelve – perhaps his best comics work – seems to be on hiatus. And, more importantly, whether he has a plan for what to do with a series with such a scatterbrained premise.

Wednesday Comics #11 It’s a little hard to believe that Wednesday Comics is coming to an end after one more issue, given that some of the stories feel like they’re not even close to being done after this issue. Superman, even though it’s been a terrible story, feels like it’s about to turn into the second half of the story after the cliffhanger here. Supergirl has been much better, but with her facing down aliens as her super-pets arrive on the scene seems like it’s setting up for several more pages, too. And then there’s Hawkman, which has a climactic moment this page, but then Kyle Baker’s over-the-top writing in this story has featured a climactic moment every other page. But I don’t see how Baker’s going to pull together Hawkman, Aquaman, an alien invasion, and DInosaur Island together into a satisfying finish in one more page. Of course, the writing’s been on the wall for weeks that Hawkman would be a terrible story.

In other episodes, Strange Adventures has a neat touch in dealing with its villain this issue. And although I haven’t read Wonder Woman in weeks, this week’s page finally makes good use of the large-page format with a nice 2/3-page spread. Too bad I’ve long since stopped caring.

Next week we’ll see how things finish up, and I’ll revisit all of the stories in their totalities.

Hercules Prince of Power HC Among the most fun comics I can recall reading were Bob Layton’s two Hercules mini-series from back in the 80s. Hercules, the Greek demigod of myth, had returned to Earth and adventured with The Avengers for quite a few years; although a good guy, he also had a tendency to get drunk and pick fights, and – being a god – was able to shrug off the consequences of his actions much of the time, sometimes leaving a trail of carnage and/or sadness behind him. In short, having Hercules on Earth didn’t seem quite fair to everyone else.

Layton tackled this challenge in novel fashion: Hundreds of years in the future, Hercules angers his father Zeus – again – and Zeus exiles him, but this time he exiles him to outer space, where there are plenty of beings who are Hercules’ equal, or more. This helps Hercules gain perspective on his place in the universe, but Layton also uses it for a series of absolutely hilarious adventures. Accompanied by a Recorder, a robot charged with observing everything he does, Hercules wades through a series of entertaining adventures, before finding himself suddenly aging, and learning that things have recently gone quite poorly for the gods of Olympus, forcing him to return home before he dies of old age to find out what’s going on.

Although at times a moving drama, Layton never relinquishes his light touch on the material, and Hercules generally comes across as a nicer guy – and a more mature one – than the one currently appearing in The Incredible Hercules (although that series is not bad). And now that Marvel’s collected this in a handsome hardcover volume, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s a good time.

(It looks like Layton’s other Hercules-related stuff, including the sequel to these stories, will be collected in a second volume later this year.)

Unthinkable #5 Unthinkable was one of three series from Boom! Studios that piqued my interest this year, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as either Irredeemable or The Unknown. The premise was that author Alan Ripley joined a government think tank after September 11 to try to come up with other unlikely scenarios that terrorists might use to attack America or other countries. Which sounds fine until the think tank is disbanded and some of their scenarios come to pass.

It’s a nifty high concept, but a tough one to pull off, since it plays its premise largely straight, which means having to thread a needle to make it seem plausible in the face of, well, doing the impossible. Writer Mark Sable gives it a good try, but I don’t think he pulls it off; the ultimate story behind the unthinkable events feels a little too simplistic, really in much the same way the climax to Watchmen didn’t quite hold up. I guess when you’re being compared to Watchmen – even flaws in Watchmen – you’re doing something right, but still the story didn’t really work for me. A worthy try, though.

Artist Julian Totino Tedesco isn’t really my kind of artist; his sketchy linework over highly realistic layouts remind me of Jackson Guice, but darker. I think he could have used an inker with a strong sense of line coherence, a Tom Palmer sort, to pull the pencils together. But that’s just me.

Star Trek: Romulans: Schism #1 I’m not sure what to make of John Byrne’s Star Trek series for IDW. Assignment: Earth followed the adventures of Gary Seven and Roberta Franklin in the early 1970s, and then Crew followed the career of Number One prior to becoming Captain Pike’s first officer on the Enterprise. Now Romulans: Schism appears to involve the shaky Klingon/Romulan alliance circa the end of the classic Star Trek TV series (or maybe a couple of years after that, although not much later since Star Trek: The Motion Picture takes place at most 5 years after the end of the series, and the designs here are mostly classic Trek). Number One appears to be back, a little grayer, and the Commodore commanding a Constitution-class ship.

What’s confusing to me is that Byrne usually has a method to his madness, a larger story that the smaller ones fit into, but it’s awfully hard to see how these three series fit together. Assignment: Earth was a set of mildly entertaining short stories, but the characters and plots weren’t really all that exciting. Crew was considerably more entertaining, but seemed to end just as it was about to get really good. Now we’ve jumped forward to focus on the two main villainous races in classic Trek. So where’s it all going? Or is Byrne just content to tell a few independent short stories, and enjoy playing in the Trek universe on his terms? Maybe it’s not going anywhere.

On the bright side, Byrne captures the visuals of classic Trek perfectly; the thing looks beautiful. And Crew was a very well-told set of stories, while Romulans: Schism is off to a good, if rather ominous, start, with a solid cliffhanger at the end of this first issue. Despite being perplexed by Byrne’s ultimate goal – if there is one – this is some of the best Trek material I’ve read in decades, and that makes it worth the price on its own.

(Hmm, on further review, it looks like this might be a sequel to an earlier two-part Byrne story, The Hollow Crown, which I hadn’t heard of before. So apparently I’m missing at least one piece of the puzzle.)

Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time #5 I’ve been conflicted about Atomic Robo since it began. I appreciate the premise – Nikola Tesla creates a sentient robot who lives into the present day and fights big monsters – and also Brian Clevinger’s wacky sense of humor in setting up the situations and writing the dialogue. Of course, the parallels between Robo and Hellboy are obvious; Robo’s personality is a little more extroverted, but they’re both strong monster-fighters with flippant tongues. The problem is that while Mike Mignola’s stories for Hellboy can be a little erratic, each individual story holds together pretty well, and when the story trails off at the end, it’s usually evident that that’s what Mignola was going for. The first Robo mini-series was a collection of vaguely-linked short stories, and the second one purported to be a single story but scattered to the four winds at the end.

All that said, Shadow From Beyond Time is a solid step forward for Robo. It starts with Robo, Charles Fort, and H.P. Lovecraft in the 1920s fighting a Lovecraftian creature. The problem is that this creature comes from outside time, so Robo fights it over and over in the following years until it all comes to an end in this issue when he figures out a way to deal with it, and even loops back to the beginning to bring some closure to the first chapter of the story. It’s easily the best-told story in the series so far, and it makes me optimistic that things will keep getting better.

Which is good, because as amusing as Robo can be as a character, it’s difficult to get invested in a series which is largely told in retrospect, and whose setting (Robo’s team and organization at Tesladyne) is left, at best, fuzzy. Madcap adventure can only take you so far.

This Week’s Haul

Hey, it’s my 150th comic book haul entry!

  • Booster Gold #24, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Green Lantern Corps #40, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Tom Nguyen & Prentis Rollins (DC)
  • Secret Six #13, by Gail Simone, Nicola Scott & Doug Hazlewood (DC)
  • The Unwritten #5, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Wednesday Comics #10 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #134, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Reilly Brown & Nelson DeCastro (Marvel)
  • The Marvels Project #2 of 8, by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1947 #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
  • Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #6 of 8, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • The Life and Times of Savior 28 #5 of 5, by J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Cavallaro (IDW)
The Unwritten #5 An interesting twist to The Unwritten this month: Rather than starting a new story (the first one having ended on something of a double cliffhanger) with Tom Taylor, instead we’re presented the shadow history of Rudyard Kipling, who seems to have sold a bit of his soul for his successful fiction and poetry, but eventually turned against the people he bargained with, and they brought him low for it.

If this sounds like a dark twist on the bargain Shakespeare made with Morpheus in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, well, other folks have noticed this too, only in this case the bargain seems to be with a secret cabal – who may or may not be human – who are using fiction and writers thereof for their own purposes. So there’s more to this secret history than Kipling’s story, he’s just how we’re getting our first direct exposure to it. Tom Taylor’s father clearly knew something of them as well, so I expect we – and Tom – will be learning more about them in the months to come.

Peter Gross does some excellent work with his period art for this issue, less cartoony than his usual style, which is a good thing.

Wednesday Comics #10 My old bud Jason Sacks (whom I know from my APAhacking days) wrote a thoughtful piece about the different creators in Wednesday Comics, with particular attention to Paul Pope on Strange Adventures. There’s a lot he says that I don’t agree with (the statement “We can’t expect an auteur approach from Busiek” I think shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Busiek’s career; and as I’ve said before I find Ben Caldwell’s Wonder Woman strip to be truly terrible, making the least out of the series’ format), but it’s still an article well worth reading.

(By the by, the “Unhand me, you pink furless thing!” panel Jason lauds in Pope’s page this week looks like a direct homage to the famous Charlton Heston line in Planet of the Apes. And inasmuch as Pope has taken Adam Strange back to his roots as a twist on the John Carter of Mars premise, I think Pope’s showing his influences rather clearly rather than being a straightforward auteur as Jason sees him.)

Deadman reaches its climax this week, but it’s something of a routine thing (“That’s it?”). On the other hand, Green Lantern and Metamorpho are both aiming for their climaxes next week, and they do so in different ways, with a darkest-before-the-dawn moment in Metamorpho, while GL defines the dawn through sheer bravado. And Karl Kerschl draws a gorgeous Flash page this week (which Jason reprints in his aforelinked article), though the story has fragmented a bit and I hope he can pull it together into a big finish.

And as for Pope’s Strange Adventures, well, it also reaches its climax this week, and it’s a rather clever one. I almost lament that Pope wasn’t given a larger canvas (in number of pages, not page size) to play out the ideas he’s presented here, as it’s perhaps the most interesting take on Adam Strange in decades. With two pages left to go for the denouement, I’m curious as to what other gems Pope can present in this milieu.

The Life and Times of Savior 28 #5 I nearly stopped buying The Life and Times of Savior 28 after last issue, but #4 was just interesting enough to make me buy another issue. I guess that’s a good thing, as it turns out it was a 5-issue mini-series, which I didn’t realize; I’d thought it was going to be a longer-form, ongoing series, and that this was still essentially the prologue.

I’ve never been a big fan of J.M. DeMatteis’ writing, as it tends toward the portentious while being simultaneously quite shallow. Savior 28 meets both of these criteria, being a retrospective of a Superman-like figure who strode unevenly through the 20th century before being killed by his former protege, just when he was trying his best to unify the world peacefully. Savior 28 was a sometime-drunk, once had a nervous breakdown, never quite left the ideals he fought for in World War II behind, and thus seemed utterly obsolete and ineffective – despite his great powers – in the 21st century. All of this is presented without any subtlety at all, right down to his uplifting speech to the United Nations being cynically dismissed by the world at large. Realistic? Perhaps, but it’s as unmoving a portrayal of superheroes brought low by real-world concerns as any I can recall, made all the less effective by the larger-than-life, Kirbyesque art of Mike Cavallaro, which seems appropriate to this story only in that it’s as unsubtle as the writing.

While I can see what DeMatteis was going for here, I think it ended up as a simple hodge-podge of ideas, with heavy-handed presentation right down to the series’ grace note on its last two pages. This territory has been worked much better in series like Astro City (with the Silver Agent storyline), Kingdom Come, or even the largely-forgotten Doctor Tomorrow from Acclaim Comics. If this had been merely the set-up for a longer form story, then there could have been some promise here, but as it turned out Savior 28 was a pretty simple, and not very fun or insightful, series.

Greg Burgas liked it, though, as did Rich Johnston.

This Week’s Haul

Hot on the heels of Disney buying Marvel Comics, it’s time for another round of reviews.

  • Wednesday Comics #9 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Immortal Weapons #2 of 5, by Cullen Bunn, Dan Brereton, Tom Palmer, Stefano Gaudiano & Mark Pennington, and Duane Swierczynski & Travel Foreman (Marvel)
  • Incognito #6 of 6, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon)
  • Irredeemable #6, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder: In The Service of Angels #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #34, by Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra (Dynamite)
Wednesday Comics #9 Another week, another Wednesday Comics. Green Lantern, Metamorpho and Strange Adventures all have significant developments, although the Green Lantern one seems too sudden, and I’m having a hard time keeping track of the parties in Strange Adventures (and why do the aliens all look like Baboons?).

I’m still a little baffled by where Flash is going, although this issue has a nifty stylistic gimmick involving comic strips, which I enjoyed.

Three more issues…

Immortal Weapons #2 Immortal Weapons is a 5-issue mini-series bridging the gap while Iron Fist is on hiatus (though whether it actually comes back is still uncertain), each issue spotlighting one of Fist’s fellow superhuman warriors from the mystical cities in the sky. Fist’s own series flagged a little toward the end, but it was generally quite good; Immortal Weapons is just as good, and maybe a little better. The first issue provided the biography of Fat Cobra, whose history didn’t quite match his recollection of it. This second issue focuses on Bride of Nine Spiders, a considerably creepier figure than the gregarious Cobra, and it’s told as a horror story involving one of the Bride’s eight-legged companions, and the fate of several people interested in it. Dan Brereton nails the spooky feel of the story, which would feel perfectly at home in some of the horror stories of the 1970s. Good stuff.

There’s an Iron Fist backup story running through the series, which is a pretty routine piece about the family of one of Fist’s students getting embroiled in a drug-related conflict. I guess it’s marking time for the main character before wherever his series goes next, but the series would be better-served with longer main stories, I think. Nonetheless, if you’ve any interest in Iron Fist at all, I’d suggest giving this series a try.

Incognito #6 Brubaker & Phillips’ Incognito wraps up this week. It started as a pulpy adventure yarn in which Zack Overkill, a former supervillain, was in witness protection after testifying against his boss. The story progressed as Zack learned he could get his powers back, and was conflicted about whether to use his powers for good or for bad. Predictably, eventually everyone interested finds out about him, and he ends up between a rock and a hard place.

But the series seemed a little pedestrian and manipulative – until this issue, when everything is revealed: Who Zack is and what his background is, and it’s, well, not what I was expecting, and made his story much more compelling, enough so that I hope this isn’t the end of Zack’s story, since I’d be happy to read more of it. Oddly, although the text piece Brubaker writes for each issue is titled “The Secret Ingredient is Pulp”, I’d say the secret ingredient is really… secrets. The hard-boiled suspense approach felt slightly out-of-place in Zack’s world, but once the stakes got raised and the surprising and fantastic facts behind Zack’s life were revealed, everything gelled into a much weightier story.

Brubaker and Phillips are going back to their crime series Criminal next, and I’ve caught up on what they’ve done before while Incognito was coming out. (You can do so yourself by reading the trade paperbacks: one, two, three and four.) Overall Criminal is a bit better than Incognito, although I’d say the latter series has a higher ceiling (and arguably they’ve both been lapped by Sleeper). If part of the goal of Incognito was to recruit new readers for Criminal, well their devious plan succeeded, because I’ll be picking up the new series when it shows up.

(Oh yeah, and naturally you’ll be able to read the collection of Incognito when it comes out.)

This Week’s Haul

  • Batman & Robin #3, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)
  • The Flash: Rebirth #4 of 5, by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Scyver (DC)
  • Green Lantern #45, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #30, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & Jesús Merino (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #14, by Matt Wagner & Michael Wm. Kaluta (DC/Vertigo)
  • Secret Six: Unhinged vol 2 TPB, by Gail Simone, Nicola Scott & Doug Hazlewood (DC)
  • Wednesday Comics #8 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #17, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker, Victor Olazaba & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #133, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
  • Nova #28, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • The Unknown #4 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Boneyard #28, by Richard Moore (NBM)
Batman and Robin #3 Reading the effusive praise heaped on writer Grant Morrison by folks like Greg Burgas (who calls him the “God of All Comics”) or Chris Sims often makes me blink in surprise. Over his long career, I’ve always seen Morrison as a fine idea man, but only a pretty good writer, with haphazard plotting and characterizations that lean towards being thin and heavy-handed. Many of his stories are very good, but over the last few years his facility as an idea man seems to have declined sharply, and his ability to play out the interesting ideas he does have seems to be dwindling away even faster. In every respect, I’d say Morrison’s been lapped by Warren Ellis at this point. (I’d say Ellis’ peak is higher, too, with Planetary and Transmetropolitan being better than Morrison’s best work, JLA and The Invisibles.)

All of which is a lead-in to my disappointment with Batman and Robin #3, which wraps up the series’ initial story arc in a decidedly unsatisfying manner. The villain, Pyg, has a master plan to extort Gotham City, and he also performs some exotic surgery on his captives by fixing a grotesque read-haired mask over their actual faces and drugs them into becoming his henchmen, a fate which he threatens to inflict on the captured Robin. But Pyg is a nonentity as a villain, just another overstylized grotesque, a less-comprehensible Joker. His plan, such as it is, is explained after he’s been defeated, with little real threat of it ever coming to pass. A circus is involved, for some reason, but as a backdrop it’s irrelevant.

The best part of the series so far has been the two main characters: Dick Grayson is clearly still crushed by the apparent death of Bruce Wayne, and is not entirely comfortable going to the lengths that Wayne would go in pursuit of justice, as you’d expect since Dick was the original happy-go-lucky boy wonder, the counterpoint to the darknight detective. The new Robin is a vicious and opinionated boy who barely has any respect for his mentor, yet who is highly skilled, even if occasionally over his head and lacking in good judgment. Bringing him up should be a real challenge for Dick. Morrison only really brushes the fringe of his characters, suggesting a great deal but leaving it unexplored, being more interested in the mechanics of propelling his plot. I also suspect Bruce Wayne will be back well before the potential of this set-up could be realized even in the hands of a writer more skilled in characterization, so it may end up being a non-starter anyway. Which would be too bad, but that’s life for a comic driven more by marketing and branding than by serving the interests of the story.

I think I’ve gone into Quitely’s art before: I like his approach to drawing figures, the solidity he gives then, but I often find his characters’ faces to be grotesquely ugly (whether or not they’re supposed to be), and the skimpy backgrounds often drives me (uh) batty – it really sucks the life out of the extended fight scene here. I generally find that what I like about Quitely’s artwork I find in a more attractive package in Gary Frank’s work (although Frank also has a problem with a lack of backgrounds).

Batman and Robin is an okay comic. It’s a pretty shallow story, grotesque for no good reason, but with some good character bits. But what it really wants to be – a strong character drama focusing on the title characters – is not Morrison’s forte, and so I think it’s never really going to reach its potential. And the praise I’ve seen it receive seems far out-of-proportion compared to what the series has actually delivered. But, you know, diff’rent strokes.

Secret Six vol 1: Unhinged I’m sure I’ve read something by Gail Simone before, but nothing comes to mind. I haven’t been avoiding her writing, it just seems like she’s largely been working in areas that don’t much interest me. For example, I dropped Birds of Prey around the time she started, because I felt the concept had been largely played out, having drifted considerably from the early issues I enjoyed. And the current Wonder Woman series was a total disaster for its first year and I bailed before she signed on to the title. Her other current series, Secret Six flew under my radar, since it spun out from a spin-off of another stupid DC event series, and the name comes from an old series that I never had much interest in (honestly, I find DC and Marvel’s tendency to reclaim old names for new premises to be rather distasteful; it’s an example of branding at its worst). Nonetheless, the series has been getting good word-of-mouth in the blogosphere, so with a new paperback collection out this week (which turns out to be the second collection, although the first was of a mini-series) I figured I’d give it a try.

The premise is sort of the mercenary version of the Suicide Squad: A bunch of B-grade (and lower) villains work together to make money. Rather than engaging in the traditional criminal activities – knocking over banks, etc. – they’re for hire for shady and difficult jobs. The team is led by Scandal Savage, daughter of the immortal Vandal Savage (and saddled with an unfortunate name), and includes: Rag Doll, eccentric son of the original; Cat Man, a vicious hunter in a garish orange outfit; Deadshot, the psychopathic marksman late of the Suicide Squad; and Bane, the nutjob who once defeated Batman, who’s trying to stay off the drugs that make him immensely powerful, yet also an unreasoning brute. The sixth member of the team apparently died shortly before the volume begins, and they gain a new member for this story.

The story itself has the team head to California to break a woman out of Alcatraz (which in the DC Universe is a prison for superhumans), since she knows where to find a card which holds great and mysterious value to those in the know. A mysterious crime lord named Junior hires every Z-grade villain he can to bring them down and bring the card back to him, so the team has to run a gauntlet to get back to Gotham to get their payoff. But the card itself is only of use to one person at a time, and once they learn what it is, it sets the team at each others’ throats.

With my references to Suicide Squad, it isn’t a surprise that the story feels like it could be a Suicide Squad story, only with selfish rather than nominally noble motivations behind the team’s actions. Both series are marked by the interactions among the strong personalities – with a few weaker personalities thrown in as followers – and with the characters’ loyalties shifting (or seeming to) as they have to make difficult decisions. Their opponent, Junior, is an unusually extreme and grotesque villain, perhaps a little too over-the-top for my tastes, since we don’t really get a good feel for what makes him tick (although there may be clues in the earlier stories that I haven’t read yet). Simone also knows how to write a climax, as the volume ends with a big one with a couple exclamation points at the end.

Nicola Scott’s a solid superhero artist, whose work I haven’t seen before. I like her work here better than Frank Quitely’s in Batman and Robin, for instance, as she has most of his strengths but draws more intricate panels with nicely-rendered backgrounds. Her style is on the generic side, though, not terribly different from artists like Dale Eaglesham or Jesus Merino or Dan Jurgens.

This collection is entertaining enough that I think I’ll try the regular series for a while.

Wednesday Comics #8 This week’s Wednesday Comics round-up: In Metamorpho, Gaiman and Allred are clearly just having fun playing with the graphic construction of the story, as this week the hero and Urania the Element Girl spent a page imitating half of the periodic table of the elements – the other half will be next week. The creators’ contortions to fit into their self-imposed structures is cute, but it doesn’t leave much space for actual story, which means the thing as a whole has been pretty disappointing.

While Flash is overall the most intriguing and entertaining story in the package, I worry that it’s playing around with overlapping timelines a little too much; I’m having a hard time untangling exactly what’s going on. Although at the end of this page, it appears that Flash may be having the same problem, and it’s coming back to bite him, so that may be the point.

Most of the stories should be having their climaxes over the next 2 weeks (with their denouements in the last 2 weeks), which will determine how good the adventure strips like Strange Adventures and Supergirl end up being.

The Unknown #4 Mark Waid’s series The Unknown finishes its first story arc this week, to be continued in a new mini-series next month. The first story involved Catherine Allingham, the world’s greatest detective (a broad premise Waid also played with in his earlier series Ruse) hiring a new assistant, James Doyle (not the Governor of Wisconsin), to whom she reveals that she’s dying of a brain tumor. The pair investigate the theft of a casket which may hold the clue to proving the existence of human souls, and they follow it to a remote castle where they apparently find the door to the afterlife, to which Catherine is strongly attracted, being curious as to what she’s going to face when she dies.

Despite all this neat stuff, the story felt weirdly disjointed and unsatisfying. The mystery of the disappearing casket is resolved off-panel, and it’s not clear to me what happened to Catherine in the final encounter at the doorway: Was her brain tumor cured? Sent into recession? Or does she still just have a little more time left? Strange.

The best parts of the comic were Catherine’s presence as the ultimate representation of rationalism, yet one whose situation makes her attracted to the fantastic, and James’ presence trying to ground her in the real, even though they really do find supernatural phenomena. It’s a dynamic familiar from The X-Files, only James isn’t a skeptic, he’s just firmly grounded in our world and is not so much skeptical of the existence of the fantastic, as suspicious of the motivations behind and goals of those phenomena. Minck Oosterveer’s art is also pretty nifty, sketchy at times but remarkably solid at others, especially the EC-Comics-like creature who haunts Catherine’s visions. I suspect Oosterveer could benefit from a strong inker rather than inking his own work, though.

Waid is usually much stronger in his plotting, and not so fuzzy in his themes, so I wonder whether he’s got some master plan for pulling the pieces together and giving them more emotional resonance, or if this is an experimental series for him. Tthe series is titled The Unknown, so I guess I could see it go either way. I’m certainly interested enough to stick around for a bit, but if it ends up being one enigma after another, then I’m likely to run out of curiosity much as I did with The X-Files.

Boneyard #28 Think some nice thoughts about one of the best independent comics of the decade, whose final issue was published this week. Richard Moore apparently hadn’t intended to end Boneyard with this issue, but I guess it just isn’t selling well enough for him to devote the time to it anymore. The tale of Michael Paris, the graveyard he inherited, and all the spooks and ghouls that live therein has been part comedy, part drama, and part soap opera for some years now, but it’s always been entertaining. I enjoyed it most when it focused on the interplay of the main characters, and thus this final issue wraps up perhaps my least-favorite storyline in the series, Paris trying to save a childhood friend from an unhappy marriage and getting his fat pulled out of the fire by his vampire friend Abby. Not to my mind the most fitting end to the series, although the last couple of pages between Paris and Abby are sweet.

I’d still recommend going out and reading the earlier volumes of the series (start with the first collection and see what you think), but sadly it’s come to a premature end. A real shame.

This Week’s Haul

A couple of hardcover collections this week: Avengers Forever will shelve nicely next to the other collections of Kurt Busiek’s excellent Avengers run from a decade ago (although it’s not as good as the main title was, being largely of interest only to longtime Avengers wonks like myself), while Spider-Man Masterworks continues the silver age reprints of the wall-crawler, which still hold up pretty well today.

Meanwhile, on a technical note, I’ve finally switched away from ImageManager to manage images in my WordPress install, and I’ve moved to the native image management support with Scissors for some additional functionality. So far it seems to provide exactly the same look, which makes me happy; the transition ended up being really easy.

Anyway, on with the haul:

  • The Brave and the Bold #26, by John Rozum & Scott Hampton (DC)
  • Ex Machina #44, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Power Girl #4, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Wednesday Comics #7, by many hands (DC)
  • Avengers Forever HC, by Kurt Busiek, Roger Stern, Carlos Pacheco & Jesús Merino (Marvel)
  • Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man HC vol 122, collecting The Amazing Spider-Man #100-109, by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gil Kane, John Romita & Frank Giacoia (Marvel)
  • Unthinkable #4 of 5, by Mark Sable & Julian Totino Tedesco (Boom)
  • Invincible #65, by Robert Kitkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time #4 of 5, by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & Rick Woodall (Red 5)
Power Girl #4 Bwah-hah-hah! I was chuckling through the first half of Power Girl #4, which retreats completely from the big “let’s fight the Ultra-Humanite – again” story of the first three issues, and instead gets down to Power Girl’s personal life. Power Girl takes Terra out to see a horror movie (which PG loves but Terra hates), and PG gets hit on by a character from a TV show I don’t watch. Then they have to head out to deal with an emergency, and Terra totally doesn’t get the idea of bringing her costume with her, so she heads out to fight in her regular clothes. The villain (a young woman on an excessive environmental kick and who has magical powers) refers to PG as “busty airborne lass”, and gets taken down because she’s basically too ridiculous to win against two actual heroes.

(The one awkward thing in all this, as Greg Burgas noted, is that Terra strips down to her panties to head off to fight the monsters. While one could rationalize this by Terra not really being modest due to her backstory, or taking off her pants because her costume doesn’t have legs, it’s frankly a joke that falls flat because it feels creepy. Given that the tone of the comic is light and jokey, not all the gags are going to work, but I think the editor should have talked them down from this one.)

The second half of the story focuses on PG trying to adjust to life running her new company, and finding a new apartment. It’s fairly routine soap opera stuff, but honestly, superhero comics can use some fairly routine soap opera stuff. It shouldn’t be all about the fighting, it should be about the characters. Treating PG as a real character and not just someone who goes out and punches villains is the best way to set this comic apart from all the other superhero comics out there. I’d like to think there’s space for such a comic on the shelves today, especially with Amanda Conner illustrating it.

The one sour note aside, this issue is basically what the first issue should have been, and it’s raised my enthusiasm for the series 100%. Fun stuff.

Wednesday Comics #7 We’re over the hump in Wednesday Comics this week, so the stories should be well into their second acts, with their climaxes not far off.

Doctor Fate shows up in Strange Adventures to help Adam Strange figure out how to get back to Rann. Even though I’m not a huge Paul Pope fan, I would totally buy a Paul Pope Doctor Fate comic, especially if he can write it without having to fit it into established continuity. Heck, set it in the 1940s, that would be cool!

The writing on Hawkman just gets worse and worse and worse. Who greenlighted this? I can’t figure out how the story could start with an alien invasion, end up on an island of dinosaurs, and possibly make any sense at all when it reaches the end. What’s the point?

Recent developments in both Metamorpho and Deadman are interesting, but neither one has really distinguished itself. Though both are quirkier, neither is really any better than Metal Men, which is a pretty generic strip but is enjoyable enough.

I’m perplexed by the fact that Green Lantern is written by Kurt Busiek, since it has none of the depth of characterization which is his signature. The first half was downright boring, and now that the fighting’s started, it doesn’t look like it’ll get any better.

The “big three” strips are all poor: I’m not reading Wonder Woman at all, Superman is just awful in story and artwork. Batman has little snatches of decent stuff, but it doesn’t hold together as a story, and what story there is isn’t interesting.

Flash is still the best strip in the book, but Supergirl has been looking up recently, and Strange Adventures is in that ballpark too, after a shaky start. J.D. loves Kamandi, and I think Ryan Sook’s artwork is terrific, the story is just too routine for me to care (but boy, the artwork really is gorgeous).

This Week’s Haul

And what an enormous haul it was:

  • Blackest Night #2 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Booster Gold #23, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Fables #87, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Fables: The Dark Ages vol 12 TPB, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Peter Gross, Andrew Pepoy, Michael Allred & David Hahn (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #39, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • JSA vs. Kobra #3 of 6, by Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • The Unwritten #4, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Wednesday Comics #6 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #132, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Reilly Brown & Nelson DeCastro (Marvel)
  • The Marvels Project #1 of 8, by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • War of Kings #6 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Echo #14, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones vol 8 HC, by Phil Foglio & Kaja Foglio (Airship)
  • Absolution #1, by Christos Gage & Roberto Viacava (Avatar)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1947 #2 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
  • Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #5 of 8, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #33, by Garth Ennis, John McCrea & Keith Burns (Dynamite)
The Unwritten #4 The first arc of The Unwritten wraps up this week. It’s a pretty interesting comic, a mix of outright horror and sophisticated mystery. Tom Taylor’s life has been turned upside down as he learns his writer father – who based his most famous creation upon Tom – had a lot of secrets, and now Tom’s been trying to track down the truth while avoiding both the law and some of the books’ nastier fans. The pacing is a bit slow, but I think Mike Carey’s building up to a much larger story so I’m willing to wait a while to see how it develops. Although this arc doesn’t really wrap anything up at the end, it actually ends on a cliffhanger which definitely piques my interest about what happens next.
Wednesday Comics #6 Wednesday Comics has some welcome developments this week. The most interesting is in Paul Pope’s Strange Adventures, in which Adam Strange returns to Earth, but rather than the young hero he is on Rann, he’s a much older man, an archaeologist, on Earth. This is an interesting twist on the character’s premise (though of course Adam Strange is somewhat based on John Carter of Mars), and I’m curious to see what Pope does with it.

Supergirl has an appearance by Aquaman, a much younger Aquaman who spends the whole page talking on his clam shell phone. Cute. Jimmy Palmiotti’s doing a much better job making a lighthearted strip with this one than Neil Gaiman is with Metamorpho, whose story is downright routine, and the little retro “extras” are rapidly getting tiresome.

The Marvels Project #1 Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s Captain America run has gotten a lot of acclaim, but I haven’t read any of it. However, I’ve enjoyed Brubaker’s pulpish work, and I’ve liked what I’ve seen by Epting in the past, so I’m going to give their new series, The Marvels Project, a whirl. It’s clearly rooted – at least in this first issue – in Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ terrific series Marvels from 15 or so years ago, covering the emergence of the original Human Torch in the 1940s, as well as the early escapades of the Sub-Mariner. Brubaker fills in some of the blanks of both characters ably, which gives me hope that it won’t just be a retread of that same ground. Though Epting certainly seems to be doing his level best to imitate Alex Ross’ style in that series.

The most interesting bit for me is the opening sequence, in which Dr. Thomas Holloway administers to a dying old man, Matt Hawk, who it turns out was the Two-Gun Kid in the late 19th century. But as long-time Marvel fans know, the Two-Gun Kid got a glimpse of the late 20th century when he spent several months hanging out with Hawkeye and the Avengers in some comics published in the late 70s, so he delivers some prophecy to Dr. Holloway, as well as his own pistols, and it looks like Holloway will use the guns to become a superhero on his own. (It seems that Thomas Holloway is the identity of the future golden age Angel, a character I’m not familiar with at all. But here he’s treated as a human observer, the point-of-view character for the story, and he works very well in that context.)

The first issue is promising, if rather derivative as I said. I don’t know whether The Marvels Project will take place during World War II, or will cover several different eras. Either one could work out. I also wonder what the “project” will be, or if the book’s title will be a misnomer. But Brubaker and Epting are both skilled enough that I’m sure it’ll be readable even if it doesn’t rise above my fears.

War of Kings #6 How not to conclude a big mini-series event: War of Kings #6. After half a year of Emperor Vulcan and sending his Shi’ar troops to fight with Black Bolt, the Inhumans, and their new Kree Empire, the series wraps up with Vulcan and Black Bolt going mano-a-mano on a giant bomb powered by BB’s energies. The two beat each other to a relative pulp before the thing goes off, after we learn that Vulcan can regenerate himself even from being mutilated by Bolt’s voice. The Shi’ar armada is devastated, and they sue for peace, meaning the Inhumans have won.

And then the series ends.


So, Vulcan will presumably be back since he can apparently live through anything, even though as a character he’s far, far past his sell-by date at this point. Black Bolt will presumably be back since, well, he’s a classic Marvel character (if something of a fringe one). The Kree and Shi’ar empires have been battered around yet again, and all things considered nothing has been resolved, really, at all. But a rift in space has been opened up which will play directly into the Guardians of the Galaxy series in coming months, or so it seems.

So, really, this big event is just kicking off some new plot threads without resolving any of the previous ones.

What a waste of time.

Y’know, I really liked Annihilation, which was primarily a Keith Giffen story, and I enjoyed Annihilation Conquest well enough. It was an Abnett/Lanning event, as was War of Kings, but there’s definitely diminishing returns here. War of Kings was not good, and I don’t think I’ll be signing up for any further DnA-driven event series featuring Marvel’s spaceketeers. I’m happy for them to keep writing Nova, but I think this milieu needs some new blood. Or, honestly, no more events for a few years.

Absolution #1 Avatar Press specializes in some especially nasty comics, and for the most part I don’t really like ’em. As I described a while back they publish a lot of stuff by Warren Ellis that doesn’t appeal to me at all, even though he’s written some excellent stuff for other companies. My general reservations about Avatar aside, I decided to give Christos Gage’s Absolution a try, as the premise was interesting, although I expected it would contain an awful lot of violence and gore. And I wasn’t disappointed on the latter point.

John Dusk is a superhero in a US where most heroes are cops, which means they have the full support of the law, but also that they have to behave like cops, with all the regulations that implies. But Dusk starts going over the edge, unable to deal with the fact that criminals get off, and live to commit more crimes. So he starts to kill people who he thinks need to be killed because they either won’t be convicted, or haven’t been before. But since he’s going around the bend, it doesn’t quite stop there, either. At least one critic has compared the character to Dexter.

Gage does a good job of making Dusk seem sympathetic, a professional with good intentions, but who’s simply been squeezed to hard and starts to exercise poor judgment. It’s hard to defend a ‘hero’ who acts this way, though, so I’ll be curious to see how long Dusk remains sympathetic, especially since hie girlfriend is also a cop and will presumably start hunting him down at some point. Roberto Viacava’s art is a little stiff, but still within the bounds of artists working for the third-tier publishers (where DC and Marvel are the first tier, and the major indies like Image and Dark Horse are the second). He’s good a good sense of composition and clean lines, which helps a lot.

Absolution could end up going either way, but the start is promising. I don’t have enough exposure to Gage’s writing to have a sense for which way he’ll take it.

This Week’s Haul

  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three #4 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Wednesday Comics #5 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Irredeemable #5, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder #2 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse)
Astro City: The Dark Age book 3 #4 The third part of Astro City: The Dark Age comes to a close this week. The whole series leaves me with a bittersweet taste, and not just because of the story; The Dark Age is a 16-issue story (I thought it was originally going to be 12 issues) which has come out v-e-r-y slowly, largely (I understand) due to Kurt Busiek’s health issues. While I’m sympathetic to the reasons for the delay and I enjoy Astro City enough to keep with it despite the scheduling issues, a 16-issue story unfortunately suffers more than most from such delays, especially when it’s chock-full of teasers and questions that would be difficult enough sit through a monthly comic waiting to see resolved, and with a year or more between 4-issue parts, well, my enthusiasm has waned greatly over the life of the series.

And alas the story itself has not been one of the series’ best. The emotional center of the series is the pair of brothers, Charles the cop and Royal the small-time crook, who struggle with their relationship as a result of their divergent paths even as they’re united in looking for the man who killed their parents when they were children. Their story takes a significant step forward in this part as they each have cut ties with their previous lives and infiltrate the organization where their target works. Of course, since it’s an underground revolutionary group, that means the stakes are high. They make significant progress here, but with one more part to come, naturally it’s not over yet in this issue.

The problem with The Dark Age is that it’s also chronicling the history of Astro City through the 70s and 80s, so it casts its net widely with a huge cast of characters, and many of them just don’t get the time they deserve. The ongoing Silver Agent story is playing out fairly well, but the superhero group the Apollo Eleven see their story reach its climax in this issue, and honestly my reaction was something of a shrug. Usually Busiek has a deft touch when it comes to working superhero battles into the background of the main story, but something about his approach here makes the battle overshadow the brothers’ efforts, yet the battle itself isn’t satisfying.

I wonder whether The Dark Age suffers from being too ambitious a story for the series’ structure (never mind its schedule). But for whatever reason, I don’t think it’s been a standout moment in Astro City‘s history. On the bright side, artist Brent Anderson’s work is as powerful as ever, filled with a wide variety of character designs and page layouts, and doing a fine service to the various emotional tones that the story paints. If I have a complaint, it’s that I find the nature of the grimaces and shouts that his characters’ faces exhibit get to look a little too much the same one issue after another.

On the bright side, Busiek recently announced that Astro City will be going monthly thanks to positive developments in both his life and Anderson’s work approach, which has to be one of the brightest bits of comics news in years. Given the series’ track record I’m cautious optimistic that they can pull it off, but honestly even if they “just” go bimonthly or quarterly, a regular schedule would be an improvement.

Wednesday Comics #5 On the other hand, Busiek’s Green Lantern story in Wednesday Comics is pretty dull, and this week’s page is just a flashback to Hal Jordan’s rivalry with the pilot who started turning into a monster a few pages ago. I think we’ve seen Green Lantern for about 3 panels so far, and none of the Hal Jordan stuff has been particularly interesting. Disappointing.

The Superman page has some memories of Superman being rocketed from Krypton. It always bugs the hell out of me when I see – as we do here – Superman’s ‘S’ shield being used on Krypton, and it has ever since the first Christopher Reeve feature film. The shield to me has always been a symbol of Superman’s humanity and heritage as an Earthman, that he’s Kryptonian by birth but that’s all in the past. It’s an indication to me that the writer or editor Just Doesn’t Get It where Superman is concerned. But that’s been the case for the whole story here so far.

This issue has not one but two heroes saving planes from crashing into the Earth. The Supergirl page is a lot more fun than the Hawkman page – the writing on Hawkman is bad and getting worse. Supergirl at least has no pretentions of being more than an amusing little yarn involving her flying pets.

The best stories in the issue are The Flash (as usual), Metal Men (Dan Didio seems to be surprising everyone by writing a perfectly readable story), and Supergirl. I’m intrigued by Adam Strange and disappointed (after some earlier enthusiasm) in The Demon and Catwoman. This week’s Batman page is the best yet, but it’s too bad it took this long for me to find the story more than bizarrely paced.

Irredeemable #5 Mark Waid’s Irredeemable seems to have gotten a lukewarm response from the comics press so far, with comments that Waid isn’t doing anything new with his Superman-analogue-gone-bad yarn, although he’s doing it very well. Personally, I think he’s doing it very, very well, and it’s near the top of my stack to read each week it comes out.

Waid is playing to his own strengths in considering what a character like Superman could do if he decides to go bad. Although there’s been plenty carnage and dead characters (not to mention millions of dead civilians), the Plutonian seems to be playing with his prey, and that allows Waid to consider that such a character can behave like the villain in a horror movie. With his speed, he can suddenly appear and disappear without anyone seeing them. With his superhuman senses he can be aware of what people are doing the world over and bring secrets to light that no one else could know. That we don’t know what the Plutonian’s motives are (Mind control? Parallel-world double? Or just gone bad as the facts suggest on the surface?) make it all the more frightening. He doesn’t seem to be trying to conquer the world, and the notion that he’s trying to get revenge for having been treated badly doesn’t seem believable either.

Although Peter Krause’s artwork is a little sketchy for my tastes – I think he could use an inker who smooths out and solidifies his pencils – his designs and layouts are terrific, with a classic superheroic look but with just enough of an edge to do justice to the premise.

This week’s issue, #5, is only 99¢, and the collection of the first four issues also came out this week, so I highly recommend checking it out. Maybe it’s not a revolutionary comic, but it is a very good comic. And in particular, anyone who enjoyed Waid’s series Empire ought to love this, because it’s even better.

This Week’s Haul

  • Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #3 of 3, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Thomasi, Chris Samnee, Mike Mayhew & Ivan Reis (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #29, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #13, by Matt Wagner & Michael William Kaluta (DC/Vertigo)
  • Wednesday Comics #4 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Ignition City #4 of 5, by Warren Ellis & Gianluca Pagliarani (Avatar)
  • Dynamo 5: Fresh Blood vol 3 TPB, by Jay Faerber & Mahmud A. Asrar (Image)
Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #3 From that cover, maybe the final issue of Tales of the Corps should have been titled “Boobest Night”. Geez, guys.

This has actually been a fun series, and the two stories in this issue are quite good, focusing on a pair of Green Lanterns. I especially like Mike Mayhew’s art on the Arisia story – where has this guy been hiding? (Well, here, apparently.) It’s tough to pull off an anthology series, but this has been a nice diversion.

Justice Society of America #29 Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges take over the writing duties on Justice Society this month. I think Don McPherson’s put his finger on it when he says that the book doesn’t really feel like it marks the beginning of a new era as the cover proclaims – fundamentally it feels like an extension of Geoff Johns’ run, with too many characters and not enough characterization. On the other hand, there are a couple of mysteries thrown into the mix almost immediately, and my experience with Willingham’s writing is that his mysteries usually pay off. But yeah, at first blush it’s more of the same (and I suspect that might be by editorial fiat, since, after all, JSA has been selling well for years). But hopefully it will evolve into something better in the coming months.

I really wish Willingham or someone else would pare the team down to just 7 members or so. Writing for more just leaves lots of characters without any screen time, and is rather a waste.

Wednesday Comics #4 The stories in Wednesday Comics finish their opening acts this week (if one assumes a 3-act structure), so most of them are just keepin’ on keepin’ on. The pleasant surprise this week is that Metamorpho has more than a single panel of story, so (a little) something actually happens. On the other hand, I’m disappointed at the turn The Demon and Catwoman story has taken, with Selina turning into a puma, which basically removes her from the picture as a character, and the Demon isn’t much of a character (he’s a Kirby DC creation, after all).

Other strips I haven’t mentioned yet: J.D. asked me about Batman last week, and I agree that it’s a rather undistinguished strip. I think scenes with heroes in their secret identities are very underused these days, so I appreciate Azzarello playing around with Bruce Wayne a bit, but overall I have a hard time figuring out what the point of the strip is.

Much as I enjoy Amanda Conner getting to draw Supergirl with a variety of facial expressions (such expressions being her forté), the story is just her zipping from one place to another, and is thus rather dull.

Deadman appears to have been sent to hell or some equivalent, which isn’t very interesting. Deadman can be a hard character to write as a leading man; I think this story would have been better served taking a page from the Deadman shorts from Adventure Comics back in the 70s, where he basically works on helping someone else through their problems. Not that he can’t be written on his own, as the Andrew Helfer/José Luis Garcia-Lopez mini-series from the 80s that wrapped up the plot threads from the Neil Adams run was fantastic, and the Mike Baron/Kelley Jones series from the 90s was an interesting take.

This Week’s Haul

  • Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #2 of 3, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Eddy Barrows, Gene Ha, Tom Mandrake & Ruy José (DC)
  • Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5 of 5, by Geoff Johns, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Green Lantern #44, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Power Girl #3, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Wednesday Comics #3 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #16, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wesley Craig & Nathan Fairbairn (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #131, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Ryan Stegman & Terry Pallot (Marvel)
  • Immortal Weapons #1 of 5, by Jason Aaron, Mico Suadan, Stefano Gaudiano, Roberto de la Torre, Khari Evans, Victor Olazaba, Michael Lark & Arturo Lozzi, and Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman & Stefano Gaudiano (Marvel)
  • Nova #27, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 HC, by David Petersen (Archaia)
  • Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time #3 of 5, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
  • The Life and Times of Savior 28 #4, by J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Cavallaro (IDW)
  • Invincible #64, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Phonogram: The Singles Club #4 of 7, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, David LaFuente & Charity Larrison (Image)
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5 Once again it seems like it’s an all-Geoff-Johns week, with two Green Lantern books and the long-delayed last issue of Legion of 3 Worlds.

At its core, Legion of 3 Worlds is a bunch of what’s today often called “fanboy wankery”: It seems to have been mainly written to reconcile the three incarnations of the Legion of Super-Heroes from the last 30 years, especially to bring the Legion of the early 80s back to being the primary Legion. All of this made for an entertaining romp through Legion history if you’re a Legion fan, but I imagine it’s largely meaningless if you’re not.

Secondarily the story both returned Superboy and Kid Flash to the Teen Titans, both of them having been dead for the last year or two. And lastly it plays out the story of Superboy-Prime, last survivor of Earth-Prime, who’s spent the last couple of years trying to get back to his destroyed homeworld, even if he had to destroy everything else to recreate it.

All of this is wrapped in what is seemingly a Superman story, but by this final issue Superman is pushed pretty firmly to the sidelines, little more than the muscle to hold off Prime until the Legionnaires figure out how to deal with him. The story is one escalating surprise (the Time Trapper is Prime in the future! Unless he’s not!) after another (when in doubt, summon more Legionnaires to do the punching) until things finally get resolved. Chris Sims sums up the irony of the resolution quite well, and honestly it is an entertaining story, with some witty dialogue (especially Brainiac 5’s parting shot), and of course the lovely George Pérez artwork.

I was a little let down by the ending, not so much where Prime ended up, but the fact that the story started out aiming very high by raising the question of whether Prime could be redeemed. The notion that Superman might actually be able to redeem him was morally fascinating, and a tough hill to climb. Unfortunately, it fell by the wayside pretty early and wasn’t picked up even a little in this final issue. While Johns may have redeemed Hal Jordan after his misdeeds as Parallax, he didn’t manage to do the same for Prime here. As it stands, Prime is one of the most badly-handled, least-necessary, and just-plain-un-fun villains in recent comics history, and I hope this is the last we see of him. What little potential he ever had has been well-and-truly explored by now.

All-in-all, a pretty good series. It could have been a lot more, and of course it had nothing at all to do with Final Crisis, despite the name. But you can’t have everything.

Wednesday Comics #3 Am I really going to review every issue of Wednesday Comics? At only a page of story per story per week, it hardly seems worth it. And yet, here I go.

I think what bugs me most about Kamandi is that it’s one teenaged kid – and anthropomorphic tigers, dogs, and rats. No matter how well drawn it is (and Ryan Sook’s art has progressed a lot since his Jenny Finn series for Mike Mignola a few years back) it’s just a strip about post-apocalyptic anthropomorphics. This premise’s sell-by date passed back when I was in grade school.

Oh my god, the Superman strip is just awful. Bad writing, bad artwork, just bad.

While Busiek is clearly having fun with the setting and characters of the Green Lantern strip, it seems like it’s been three pages of basically nothing so far. Indeed, the second and third pages have the same cliffhanger!

I find Wonder Woman to be unreadable: The panels are so dense it negates the benefits of the larger page size. And I find the story impenetrable. Plus, it doesn’t look like Wonder Woman at all! Teen Titans is only slightly better, although I don’t really care about these characters. And I liked the first page of Neil Gaiman’s Metamorpho, but since then it’s been to splash pages in a row. Talk about uncompressed! It’s got the opposite problem of Wonder Woman; neither has found the right balance of story and art for the format.

Flash is still the best strip in the book The art is a nice mix of realistic and cartoony, sort of like Ty Templeton’s. The story is both off-the-wall and moving. The structure is entertaining, too. It’s almost worth buying Wednesday Comics just for this.

It finally dawned on me that in Hawkman Kyle Baker is directly evoking the art of Sheldon Moldoff, who draw the hero in many of his earliest adventures in the 1940s (and whose style I suspect directly influenced that of Joe Kubert, who draw him later, and who draws the Sgt. Rock pages in Wednesday Comics). Despite largely liking the artwork, I still don’t care for the story or the portrayal of Hawkman here. I suspect this will be the second-biggest misfire of the series (after Superman).

Guardians of the Galaxy #16 This also seems to be all-Marvel week, as nearly every Marvel book I buy comes out on the same week these days, including the two ongoing space-based titles. Nova continues to be a very good book, but Guardians of the Galaxy has been thrashing around trying to find its direction. While Nova has the advantage of being primarily about one character, Guardians is about a team, and so it’s been more easily disrupted by the twice-yearly “events” throwing it off its ongoing story and preventing it from spending time exploring its characters. Which is too bad because the first three issues – prior to the intrusion of Secret Invasion – were very intriguing.

This month’s issue of Guardians is intriguing once more, as we learn something about why Major Victory showed up in the present day (coming back from the future), followed by a rather hostile Starhawk. We learn this because half of the team has been thrown into the future, where they meet the 31st-century Guardians (i.e., the original team created back in the 1970s), and learn that the universe is on the verge of coming to an end. The Guardians are based in the last remaining vestige of Earth – Avengers Mansion, floating in space behind a force field. Having the present-day team arrive in the mansion in its form as a historical museum is a neat moment, as is the revelation of what’s going on. Fortunately Starhawk seems to have learned that Warlock is going to do something which will eventually bring about the catastrophe. Unfortunately, there’s only a limited amount that they can do about it, but they give it their best shot, even if they have to die trying.

The issue ends on a big cliffhanger, with a plot worthy of some of Star Trek‘s time travel yarns (whether that’s good or bad is up to you). It looks like the story is heading for a big finish in the next month or two, in concert with War of Kings. Of course, Abnett and Lanning could milk it for a while longer, although at this point I think it would be best to get this arc resolved and to move on to the next one. Because the story’s got promise once more, and I’d hate to see them squander it.