8.23.2006

8.23.06 Reviews

Supermarket #4 (IDW): So, Beta's car is clearly a stick shift as depicted in the art. And obviously no self-respecting boy racer would have anything but. Yet, in one panel the gauge display clearly shows the P, R, N, D, 1, 2, 3 that only automatic transmission rides have. That goof and quibble aside, this was a great wrap up to a solid mini-series from Brian Wood and artist Kristian. They do redeem their automotive dissonance with a brilliant line about "the best of late 90's American-built Japanese automotive technology" being nothing and unable to "beat those German beasts back there" in reference to some MBZ's in hot pursuit. Striking visuals (check the Porno Swedes in their Range Rovers!) paired with small little truths that are laced throughout the adventurous narrative. This futuristic and distinct vision that blends paranoia, thoughtful youth, car culture, organized crime, and a Run-Lola-Run freneticism definitely grew on me with repeated readings and I'll certainly be picking up the forthcoming collected edition. Grade A-.

52: Week Sixteen (DC): I really had to suspend disbelief here. There are thousands of people in the crowd watching the marriage ceremony of Black Adam and Isis, yet Renee Montoya jumps on the shoulders of The Question and just happens to spot the bomber? And that's after the fact that she miraculously realizes there even *is* a bomber due to a pretty loose clue. And then Adam isn't even aware that there was a fatality at the ceremony? Wouldn't an uber-micro-managerial ruler be briefed on such things if not directly present? Wouldn't security be pretty tight, the streets lined with secret police types? How did Renee and Charlie get away? Other than that, kind of fun to see Tawny make a cameo as a part of the "Marvel Family." The advert for Lobo in the next issue is a sure sign of the apocalypse... like 52 has officially jumped the shark. And, I umm... still have no idea what's really going on in the DCU. Grade D+.

New Avengers #23 (Marvel): Another strong Civil War tie-in from The House of Ideas. An absolute joy to see Olivier Coipel's pencils. I was digging him back in the Legion of the Damned and Legion Lost stories (that DC *still* hasn't collected!) and here his work is a bit smoother with fewer of the sketchy lines that became his trademark style. This issue is terribly fun as we see Jessica "Spider-Woman" Drew highlighted. She's tempted by HYDRA, captured by SHIELD, and there is a spectacular action sequence as a SHIELD Helicarrier almost goes down over Rhode Island. The last page really tugs at the heart as Jess is forced to finally pick a side based on what she believes. For years she's been told what to do as a deep cover, double, and even triple agent. While a SHIELD Agent, she's gone undercover with HYDRA and been embedded with the Avengers while answering only to Colonel Fury. No more. Now she is simply a member of Captain America's Resistance. I love it. Highly entertaining. Grade A-.

Batman #656 (DC): There's something I've always liked about the concept of equilibrium. The term itself implies a state of rightful balance. Here's a totally random example. When I first started at my company, 10 years ago, the common "dress code" was jeans and a t-shirt. There were even days with shorts and flip-flops during summer months. We were still in "start-up" mentality and that entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well. After a couple of years, there was a big push for professional perception and the pendulum swung wildy in the other direction. I went through a period of wearing suits every day, a shirt and tie at the bare minimum, because you never knew when you might be whisked away to an assignment or briefing with an executive, or even the CEO. Now, years later, that stance has softened and we've settled somewhere more centered. It's business casual. Dress shirts, slacks, and expensive shoes. No tie. And that's about right. You can dress it up or dress it down depending on the occasaion.

Now let's apply that same process to Bruce Wayne. In the Silver Age 1960's, helped in no small part by the TV show, Batman became campy, goofy fun. It took almost 20 years for this pendulum to swing wildly in the other direction. It took guys like Neal Adams in the 1970's and finally Frank Miller in the 1980's with his Year One and Dark Knight stories for Batman to become more realistic, culminating with the oft-cited "dark and grim." And now, I feel like Grant Morrison is asking me to don the flip-flops again since he's yanking it so far back in the other direction with his first two issues of this series. *Sigh.* All in all, the meta-commentary just feels too in your face. The fact that they're at a comic book art show. Characters quipping that comics have become "too highbrow," almost as if they're turning and winking at the audience letting you know that Grant is trying to deliberately pull them back down into plain ol' fun territory. I mean, Ninja Man-Bats? If that isn't a desperate cry for "we're fun, the kids will like us, damn it!" then I don't know what is. A story straight from a Silver Age cover (What if Batman Had a Son!? Ha!). It's just so... overt. Often times, great art is found in subtlety. On the plus side, Talia just dumping off the kid was sorta' funny, and Kubert's art is growing on me a bit, with some nice perspective shots amid the action, even enjoyed the Darwyn Cooke style Wonder Woman art. But overall, I feel like Grant is talking directly to me and it's distracting. He flat out says to me that he hates "art with no content" almost as if he's anticipating the backlash and posturing this as a mock defense. At the end of the day, I have to agree with Aunt Agatha (another lame cameo there...) when she says "it's a wee bit overdone." Writers need to keep in mind that Batman can be fun without being campy. And he can be edgy and cunning without being dark and grim. There is a middle-ground which is actually the most plausible of all possibilities. Morrison's own take on Batman in his JLA run was a nice example of a competent (albeit sometimes uber-competent to the point of deus ex machina...) guy who was neither campy, nor asshole, nor overly dark. See Meltzer's take in the new Justice League this week for yet another example that's off to a good start. It's time for a more centered, less polar extreme on this character, where writers can push him high or low brow depending on the stories they want to tell and their strength as storytellers. Oh, and one last thing... like I know I'm supposed to just accept this as a conceit of the industry, but it really jumped out at me here. How fucking stupid are people in the DCU that they can't figure out Bruce Wayne is Batman? Bruce is at this high profile social event, Man-Bat(s) show up, Bruce noticeably disappears, and Batman magically reappears (cuz I guess he just happened to be in London!!!), and then doofy characters comment that Batman is there but Bruce is missing! Come on! Anyway, most books that are kinda' ehh, I give 3 issues to do something I respond to. One more to go Grant, then I'm outta' here. Grade B-.

Justice League of America #1 (DC): There's been a lot of ballyhoo abounding around this title, with people trying to guess the lineup, people spoiling the lineup online, concerns over the art, etc. But let's get back to what matters here, folks. Is it any good? Is Brad Meltzer's new incarnation of the JLA entertaining and serviceable? Hell yeah, it is. Some interesting choices and things that jumped out at me here. Rather that string these all together paragraphically, let's just look at some bullet points, shall we?

* Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Holy Trinity, check. Add Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Black Canary, Arsenal, Red Tornado, Hawkgirl, Black Lightning, and Vixen. That's an interesting line-up. Not your father's JLA, but certainly not anything egregious.

* I like the diversity. We have 4 big guns (with GL Hal) and some nice second generation folks, namely Arsenal (Roy Harper, Speedy, Teen Titan, Outsider, Agent of Checkmate, etc.). We have long range powerhouses, short range fighters, strategic tacticians, and straight brawlers. There's flight, mind-controlled rings, metahumans, Kryptonians, Thanagarians, 2 African-Americans, and some regular blokes. The only corner of the DCU not really represented is the magic side of the house.

* Thought it was tricky of DC to put 8 of the 10 members in the first row of heroes, if you place the two alternate covers together. Everyone but Vixen and Hawkgirl are there.

* Really enjoyed the selection process and would have liked to see more of that in lieu of all the Red Tornado stuff. Interesting that there is no mention of Mister Miracle as a viable candidate. I know there isn't space to show the deliberations for every single possible JLA candidate, but the fact that the new villain seems to be sporting an Apokoliptian Mother Box could have made for a nice showdown. Bruce may regret lobbying so hard for Tornado and not considering Scott Free. How long before the roster changes, I wonder? And besides, everyone else is a Reserve Member, right?

* Damn, when Meltzer said at the San Diego Con that he really liked Red Tornado as a character, he wasn't playing. Nearly half of this issue and presumably the first arc will center on him.

* Great to see the asshole Batman officially behind us and see him confidently, and with trust, pose names of second generation heroes like Bart/Kid Flash, Vic Stone/Cyborg, and numerous Outsiders (well, his Outsiders anyway, not Dick's). Seems to me all three of them agreed on Power Girl, but she was a mysterious no show(?).

* Some nice coordination on the Editorial front by including Doc Magnus, who is featured prominently in 52. Also some nice nods to the missing 52 heroes, like Atom/Ray Palmer, Animal Man/Buddy Baker, and Captain Marvel/Billy Batson. On the other hand, I'm a bit confused by the appearance of Deadman/Boston Brand, when he didn't even appear in the first issue of the new Deadman series.

* Loved, loved, loved the reference to the Legion Flight Ring!

* Thank God! NO AQUAMAN! WOO-HOO! A more boring character never existed.

* Some absolutely precious moments between Hal Jordan and Roy Harper that clear the way for Roy as the "Arrow" character in the JLA without eschewing Ollie's history with the team. And Conner Hawke did get his turn at bat in Morrison's run of JLA, besides I hear he's getting his own book. Roy may be my favorite character here, should make for an interesting dynamic with his "mom" Dinah Lance and "uncle" Hal Jordan fighting beside him.

* I read somewhere that there has never been an incarnation of the JLA (counting JLI, JLE, etc.) that hasn't had Martian Manhunter as a member. This may be the first time he's not been included in a lineup in decades. I don't mind actually, just an interesting observation.

* Lots of seeds planted here with the Red Tornado evolution, new group of villains, and dynamics of the selection process. Certainly is enough material layered in here to get us through a good year or so with just what's been presented so far.

* I thought the cross-promotional effort of housing the first chapter of Brad Meltzer's new prose novel was a nice move, but wouldn't it have been so much nicer the other way around? When will a subsidiary publishing arm of AOL/Time-Warner (who owns Warner Brothers, who owns DC Comics...) have the balls to publish a few pages of a comic book in the back of a prose novel as a crossover attempt? *That's* the real question.

* Ed Benes' art isn't going to win any awards, and even looks a bit stiff in spots, but for the most part it's clean and competent, and will serve the story just fine. It's sort of like the soundtrack to a movie, if you don't notice it, then it's setting the mood and doing it's job. Ideally, we'd like to see the art stand out on its own, but better to fade quietly into the background than to distract with overt poor quality. What could have easily derailed is helped a lot by the Inker (Sandra Hope) and Colorist (Alex Sinclair).

All in all, no huge complaints, a nice "gathering the team" issue (though no big reveal yet), some nods to past continuity, no actions terribly out of character, the stage has been set, and I was very entertained. Grade B.

Wonder Woman #2 (DC): I'm struggling to "find" Diana right now. In this book she still seems to be adrift, atoning for killing Max Lord according to her convo with Bruce. Yet over in JLA, she seems perfectly adapted to be a founding member and leader of the new incarnation of the League. Back in this book, Bruce offers her a position in the Department of Metahuman Affairs. So, umm... what's up with Diana? Is she ok or not? Where does her heart tell her to focus? Is that the point of this book? Hell if I know. Speaking of the Department of Metahuman Affairs... do we really need Sarge Steel to start this agency up again? We already have the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO), and now the new version of Checkmate, all of them seem to be involved with the monitoring of, and response to, metahuman activity. I don't get the distinctions or need for 3 agencies that at the minimum have tremendous overlap, and at worst do exactly the same thing. That aside, and it's a big set of shit to move aside, it was neat to see Diana Prince's cover being Army Intel, Masters Degree in International Relations, and Head of Security at WayneCorp, nice going Bruce. I'm sort of getting into the dialogue with Nemesis, the cameos of Bruce and Tim, and Diana attempting to maintain her cover, but then I get pushed right out by her lame-o villains, and the appearance of Hercules. The art is great and this is the first time I've ever even come close to being interested in Wonder Woman, but we're certainly not there yet. As aforementioned, this book will also be receiving the "3 issue test," so one more to win me over or get left in the lurch. Grade B-.

Astonishing X-Men #16 (Marvel): Writer Joss Whedon takes a lot of shit for being a "one trick pony" who delivers nothing but different spins on the adolescent female latent power fantasy design (an argument I can defeat with any episode of Firefly/Serenity that doesn't focus squarely on River Tam), but damn if he doesn't do it exceptionally well. It actually made him a brilliant choice to write X-Men, especially an arc where Katherine "Kitty/Sprite/Shadowcat" Pryde is featured prominently. This is yet another tight Whedon script with beautiful Cassaday art. It's really nice to see Kitty get her props as a brilliant and skillful full-fledged X-Man, err, X-Person(?). Loved the way she was able to dispose of Emma Frost by really thinking about how both of their powers work, it's obvious she's thought through this day for years and was prepared for it. Hell if I know what happened last issue, this bi-monthly publishing schedule really knocks some of the wind from the sails, but it will all pay off when we can read it in one sitting and that next hardcover collecting the second year of Joss and John's pure comic gold comes out. Grade A.

Jack of Fables #2 (DC/Vertigo): One of my co-workers and I have this saying, "you don't know what you don't know," and that's about how I feel about this title. That is to say, I'm enjoying Jack of Fables, but I'm not certain that I'm getting Jack of Fables, or getting all there is to get anyway. As someone who read(s) Fables extremely sporadically, I'd say I've read a total of about 20 issues, few of which seem to relate here, I don't exactly know what I'm missing. I'm sure there are numerous references to people and events that are whizzing by me and not being paid their due time. It's like picking up a random trade of The Sandman, sure there are these interesting characters named Death and Destiny, but if I'm not aware they're siblings of Lord Morpheus, it sorta' loses something, no? Does it make me want to rush out and buy all of the Fables trades? Eh, no, not quite. I'll just keep floating along, enjoying this purely for what it is on the surface. Perhaps that's proof enough that the title is strong enough to stand on its own. Grade B+.

DMZ #10 (DC/Vertigo): Matty Roth becomes a real power-broker with his acquired information this issue. An extremely entertaining and thoughtful book that offers up some rather erudite points about war. Namely that the real interesting stories are found on neither side of the conflict, but somewhere in the middle, amid the inhabitants of the DMZ, where a new culture is being forged in fire. Grade A.

Eternals #3 (Marvel): This book looks good and it reads smooth enough, but I just don't know where it's going. The disparate parts don't seem to be coalescing into something discernable, let alone important. Just feels like it's floating along. 10 years ago, I would have said "I have faith enough in Neil Gaiman to sort it out and will stick with it," but at this rate I don't know if I can hold on for the entire second half to see something happen. Iron Man's guest appearance felt a little forced with the references to Civil War and Sersi's apparent stint as an Avenger. Grade B-.

Fear Agent #7 (Image): A very enjoyable issue that perfectly captures Heath's personality, brilliantly depicts the ethnocentrism that would be likely from other races of aliens, and chronicles the repercussions of Heath's time-jumping exploits amid a civil war during the last couple of issues. Totally believable take on the prison experience and his use of the drug "cleroin." There was one big typo where "monkey sex" was meant, but it read "money sex," which is kinda' funny in itself, but clearly not intended. Jerome Opena's art is at an all time high, his clean lines and detailed designs are reminiscent of Frank Quitely in spots. A fun, fun ride. One of the books I really look forward to every month. Grade A.

Fell #6 (Image): Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith offer up another satisfying "done in one" story that focuses on a domestic disturbance call that quickly becomes more complicated. Against that backdrop, we also get to see the budding relationship of Mayko and Rich. This child abuse story is all the more schocking because it's based on real events in the UK. This book is always worth the wait and further proof that the Eisner Nominations and success of the $1.99 format are no anomaly. Grade A.

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