Thursday, December 08, 2005

LEGION OF SUPERHEROES #12

I was discussing this issue with a friend the other day and we came to the same conclusion: for better or for worse, we're enjoying this book despite little to no involvement in the plot. I'm not sure whether that's a statement about us or about Mark Waid or, if it's the latter, whether it's a compliment or an insult.

One of the necessary coping mechanisms of reading Legion is an appreciation of Elseworlds-type stories. Because, as often as the Legion gets rebooted, part of the fun has to be in discovering the new interpretations of old characters. In this, Waid has been close to spectacular. Not every change may be considered for the better, but he's definitely got somewhere to go with all of the Legionnaires and they are all pleasantly multi-dimensional. *looking straight at you, Cos*

The plot and purpose of the story arc... Waid has been very good about distracting us from the fact that it's pretty pedestrian. Take away Praetor Lemnos's funky power and he's a stock megalomaniac aspiring to universal domination. His army of disaffected youth doesn't have any spin that the Brotherhood of Mutants or the Injustice Society hasn't tried first. The UP government utters such breathtakingly fresh lines as "But the Legion warned us! Why didn't we listen?!". And you know what? It totally doesn't matter.

Last issue's "Waid was showing us all along and we didn't see until he told us" moment was Imra's muteness, which was toyed with nicely this month. Brainy's stirring grief at Nura's death was also expanded upon to include the introduction of Shrinking Violet Atom Girl, who, to quote the aforementioned pal, skipped straight past ShyVi and into Levitz-era tuchus-kicking mode. Projectra literally forces everyone to see things differently, starting with herself.

All in all, the Legionnaires worked well together and played off each other without forgetting that they are only a couple of issues away from betrayal and infighting. And so the story worked, even if Elysion and actions and cronies remain largely irrelevant to the enjoyment of the issue.

Back to Nura for a second... the forcefield bubble is reminiscent of Lightning Lad's earlier-boot demise and Brainy's grief is certainly reminiscent of his pain at Kara's death. There's very little likelihood that Jeckie will be eligible for any Sensor Girl-type storyline, but... Nura?

And, since Waid is trying to keep himself to 'Lad/Lass/Kid/Boy/Girl' names for the Legionnaires... Does this mean Brin Londo will have to be Feral Lad instead of Timberwolf?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

BATMAN #647

Here, on the other hand, the bleeped-out F-bomb works just fine. (this'll make sense if you're scrolling up.)

For the first half, I laughed myself sick in spite of myself. Because, really. It was funny, but in a way that made me feel vaguely twelve. Or a Wizard reader.

The second half was action drama instead of comedy and worked surprisingly well because Judd Winick laid off the angst. Jason and Bruce, this Jason and Bruce, have a fantastically complicated relationship. Batman, the eternal party pooper, is a not-so-secret optimist at heart and he has faith that he can win Jason over even though every indication is that Jason is too far gone -- hell, he was too far gone the moment he tried to swipe the hubcaps off the Batmobile.

As they face off against the Society's three thugs, Bruce doesn't consider that he has enabled a miscreant by training Jason, he only sees the son he let down. And when they act by muscle memory and shared history, that view is reinforced -- Batman is prepared to Jason to double-cross him, but doesn't think he will. The betrayal comes later, after a clever-for-Winick action sequence that gets unqualified praise for not relying on either a deus ex machina or Batgadgets.

The issue ends with Bruce vowing to take Jason down. (Again.) Whether he will or not... Alfred speaks of Batman's resolve. What Alfred knows and doesn't say is that that resolve has always gotten distorted around family.

Winick's strong work on this book continues. Fast-paced and not undone by Winick's love of banter steering him off course. Still no love for Doug Mahnke's art, but...

BATGIRL #70

... What's up with the potty mouth?

Seriously. None of the ^%^#%@ moments were outrageous within context, but considering that there's no precedent for them, they felt jarring and out of place.

As for the actual issue... *sigh* The ugly first: The throwback funky-fonted debut of Lazara hurt. It was bad, worse than the throwback funky-fonted Batgirl at the end. Nora deserved better. So did Victor, for that matter. I beg that this isn't the introduction of a new Cass nemesis. I'd have to stop mocking Judd Winick for his villains.

Otherwise, it read like Andersen Gabrych was short a coat of paint. With only some scattershot self-analysis by Cass to push things along, you didn't have to look too closely to see the foundations of forthcoming arcs. Some of the fighting felt gratuitous -- or maybe I'm still too unexcited by Pop Mhan's art to be entertained by it. Too many wannabe League of Assassins types, all of whom we're supposed to care about -- or at least remember their names. Too much Cass watching Shiva watching Cass. Not enough Nyssa making sense. Not enough clear storytelling to justify the "we just spent how many issues on the Who's My Mommy storyline and we're dropping it like a hot rock?" ending.

I still think highly of the title, but I can't say that this was one of Gabrych's better arcs -- that Pig Dude Lobo ripoff from earlier on will haunt him as well. Gabrych clearly had an idea of where he wanted Cass to go in this storyline, but there were too many places where he told us rather than showed us how she got there. On the other hand, he did get parts of the Infinite Crisis prequel stories to make sense, so...

ALL STAR SUPERMAN #1

Who knew?

After the awesome drek that was All-Star Batman & Robin, the Ultimate DCU All-Star project had a dark cloud hanging over it like the news that Halle Berry had signed a three-picture deal to make Catwoman movies. Sure, the Superman book would feature the reuniting of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, but... Frank Miller and Jim Lee sounded promising in the solicits, too.

This was fun. In no small part because it has nothing to do with Infinite Crisis -- which seems to have a black hole vacuum effect on my ability to read comics -- but mostly because it's got attitude.

Reducing the origin story to one page was marvelously cheeky precisely because Morrison could. We all know the tale, so there's no need to waste time on it. On to the next bit of business and then the next and then the next. This debut had a fantastic pace, deftly bobbing and weaving in the fight against the Exposition Fairy to explain how this universe is different from everywhere else in the DCU (a skill that will prove more necessary and sadly more rare in the coming year). In no order: Lex Luthor's status is revealed, Lois Lane and the staff at the Daily Planet is brought in, the peril explained, the protagonists introduced, the primum mobile plot device brought out, and the status of Lois and Clark is not only explained but also changed... all in 22 pages.

Brian Bendis's head is still spinning three weeks later.

After all this time, there are no truly unique spins on Superman anymore. But Morrison does cobble together a pretty good basis for a story arc: a Superman in cahoots with a mad scientist benefactor (or is he?), a Superman who knows that he is dying a slow death and has time to make preparations, and a Lex Luthor who is far more clever than anyone else has written him recently save for Brian Azzarello. These bits -- along with the last page reveal by Clark -- have legs.

Because it's a valid comparison point: I thought the accolades Morrison got for his X-Men run were overstated. It was good in that it was interesting, but it wasn't fall-over-yourself awesome and not all the Chuck Austen that followed is going to make me think that the run was landmark. I think he can do as well, if not better, here. I liked Morrison's JLA run quite a bit -- not as much as Waid's, but it was a great restart to the series -- and Superman is a property with enough flexibility that Morrison can play.

For the record, I still am not a fan of Quitely's art, but his lantern-jawed Supes and vapid-looking women weren't too distracting. (Which is about as high praise as I'm willing to offer a man who managed to make Jean Grey ugly and unattractive.)



I seem to be making these "not dead, only resting" explanations too often. So I won't. In terms of catching up on comics... I will be trying. Working the insectivore claws on Infinite Crisis is both too easy and too hard -- it's like aiming at an elephant with a self-targeting missile in that it's impossible to miss, but on the other hand it is incredible draining to work up the energy to do so. All I know is that the DCU I generally liked -- hadn't loved in a little bit -- is gone and that almost everything I liked about it is going with it. If I let myself care, then I'm opening up all the wounds at once. I'm just... very tired of watching the things I enjoy get ground into tiny little pieces.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

LEGION OF SUPER HEROES #11

This may be a little scattershot because I'm still dizzy from being beaten about the head by Mark Waid and the Big Stick of Meaning.

The first half of the issue had a couple of really, really great moments. On the drama front, Brainy's reacting to Nura's death was so powerful. The two of them have spent the first ten issues going at it hammer and tongs with the verbal combat, Brainy's intensity not winning against Nura's occasionally spacey calmness, and his reaction to finding Nura was just so very him. For me, that was the high point of the issue -- of course Brainy will fight death through superior intelligence.

Invisible Kid's rallying speech was also nicely done, a completing of the circle for the least trusted member of the Legion to be the one who has the most success connecting with the kids on the plaza. Again, in 'past lives', Lyle and Brainy have a history together and I think that made their panels together a bit more poignant.

This issue's "wait a second -- let me check the back issues" moment was the revelation of Imra (Saturn Girl) being mute. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense. On the other... dude. Imra's mute? Never noticed... which was obviously the point. Sure, the X-Men's Chamber is another mute telepath, but this was more interesting because Imra, unlike Jono, has never had to function without her telepathy before and has no coping skills. She looked terrified, like a disabled child suddenly separated from her parent at the mall at Christmas.

The second half of the issue, the pages and pages of montage comparing the heroic youth to their 'fictional' counterparts... completely slid by me without even a glimmer of warm fuzzy feelings. Especially with the dialogue that went with it. It didn't click -- showing the kids who'd lived in honor of those heroic funnybooks turn into the actual heroes... and then tearing down the importance of those books and ridiculing the guy who points it out. It was post-structuralist in all the wrong ways.

Overall: annoying second half not enough to dull the impact of the very strong first half.



Monday, October 24, 2005

MANHUNTER #15

Most filler issues are slightly irrelevant focus stories, either on secondary characters or on facets of the lead's backstory that are nice to know, but really not necessary to the enjoyment of the series. This issue of Manhunter qualifies as such by training the spotlight on the provenance of Kate's costume. But it manages to be engaging and entertaining anyway, which is pretty much the zenith of praise for filler material.

BATGIRL #69

The best villains don't foam at the mouth.

Ra's al-Ghul, when written well, wasn't the cosmic avatar for PETA. He was capable of boggling acts of destruction that put animals above humans, but there was always more to him. When written well, he made sense... in a perverted, impractical-because-genocide-is-never-the-best-answer kind of way. And then he died at his daughter Nyssa's hand and Nyssa was given a ridiculous costume (yes, I know why, but it looks moronic) and his other daughter Talia was conscripted into Infinite Crisis and things were looking pretty grim.

Andersen Gabrych, with the same aplomb he took with Tarantula II and, well, most of the other guano, doesn't completely rescue the Daughters of the Demon. But he does rescue the girls from looking like they got picked up in the Supermarket Sweep bonus round that was the gathering of the Secret Society of Supervillains. Nyssa has a plan. And it makes sense. In a perverted, impractical-because-genocide-is-never-the-best-answer kind of way.



Friday, October 21, 2005

GREEN LANTERN CORPS: RECHARGE #2

Formulaic pablum (is that redundant?) for fanboys.

I don't know what I was expecting here. The scope of the concept is far too great to squish into a six-issue miniseries, so instead Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons are working a sales pitch that has all the pizzazz of vanilla yogurt. Nonfat and slightly warm.

Still not enamored of the whole Hill Street Blues-ification of the GL Corps, but I'm somewhat lacking for better ideas. Mostly because I haven't thought about it much. That the Corpsmen have seemingly exchanged mindlessly following the Guardians' peremptory orders for mindlessly following the talking Rings' orders... Bah. As is the inevitable "Guy is a rebel" defiance. Guy and Kyle Rayner are surprisingly bland for what should be some sort of unholy alliance. The whole Enemy Mine subplot (aka 'let's partner up the representatives of the warring factions to teach them to look beyond the conflict' thing with the Rannian and the Thanagarian) was purely paint-by-numbers. As was the issue. As will be the series. I should stop expecting more.

Speaking of things dorky fanboy GL... I've been having inordinate amounts of fun with the DC Showcase edition (oh, Hal, you cad!) There's not much lost in the switch from the hardbound, glossy stock, fully colored Archive Editions -- except $40 USD off the pricetag. The helpful stating-the-obvious narrative style of the time makes sure you know when Hal encounters yellow objects, even if it doesn't ever explain why Hal fails to defend himself against yellow objects thrown at him. Like the Marvel Essentials series they are copying, the DC Showcase books are thick as a brick (500+ pages) and cheap ($10), so if you're looking for some charming, bonkers, old-school heroism, you can't find a better deal for the money.

BATMAN #646

Once Deathstroke showed up, I really wanted to hate this book. Because Slade Wilson has turned into the DCU's Wolverine, the character who has to appear in every single title, and he gets less interesting with each appearance.

Sadly, I do not hate this book. It was a little too much fun.

While the memory of his awe-inspiring badness on Green Arrow has not been forgotten, Judd Winick has somehow ceased to be my bête noire. There are bigger targets now and enough time has passed since Ollie's sidekick Pedro Mia's storyline (and my dropping the book) that I can appreciate Winick's run on Batman for what it is. And what it is is a story that's not taking itself entirely seriously.

I have not changed my mind when it comes to Jason Todd. I still think bringing him back to life was a bad idea in the same way bringing Barry Allen back would be a bad idea. But Jason's back and Winick is actually using him well. (Yes, I said it.)

This Jason is morally ambiguous, a bane to both Batman (good guys) and Black Mask (bad guys). He's got Batman's training to understand the criminal mind, but he's also got his own experience understanding Batman's mind. And he is very happy to screw with everyone's heads. For the same reason Hunter Zolomon works as Wally West's most dangerous opponent in Flash -- namely intimate knowledge and dedication to the cause held together by a little insanity -- Jason is a magnficent threat. And it's a treat and a bonus that he's got no superpowers, no cosmic toys, and nothing but his own innate wits and a lot of practical training.

Winick's Batman is... a bit of a relief, frankly. Largely free of the flesh-rending angst that suffuses everything Batman does in relation to Infinite Crisis, this Bats seems almost giddy by comparison. He's working his streets, trying to out-maneuver Jason and the bad guys, doing his own thinking (instead of Oracle), and is focused on his cause and not mindwipes or Checkmate or whateverthehellelse is going on over in the Big Picture. He's the Dark Knight of Gotham, not the Scowling Conscience of the Ghost of the JLA. Don't know how much longer this will last, but I'll take it while it does.

So far on this run, Winick has yet to trip himself up in the usual fashion. His love of his own patter hasn't overcome the story and Black Mask is turning out much better than any Winick-written villain has a right to. I'm still waiting for the other shoe to fall -- even when Winick does well (Green Lantern), he ends up shooting himself in the foot and most of the time, he isn't doing well consistently (Outsiders) or at all (GA). But maybe Batman can be his Fables -- the one title that keeps Bill Willingham from descending into Chuck Austen-like loathing. Winick's going to be on the title for a while, so it's worth hoping.

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #24

I think it's safe to say that I'm past the phase where Greg Land's art interests me in the slightest. The phase probably ended sometime during Sojourn, if not before, but... we may be approaching Marc Silvestri territory, where his art actively keeps me from enjoying a story.

On the other hand, Land's cheesecake art works perfectly with Mark Millar's soap opera of a plot. Of course Mama Storm is a bodacious babe who looks no more like a genius researcher than Tara Reid did, let alone a mother of two teenaged children. And Johnny Storm looks like he stepped out of a WB series, which if you take away the whole Namor thing is what this story is. Blah.

I skipped the parallel-Earth zombie arc, which was apparently more interesting than the Namor arc will be. Not feeling the love anymore, not with the witty geek banter that Bendis started and Ellis raised to an art turned into lame jokes about poo and the only suspense being whether Reed will get cut off by Sue. Millar is boring here when he at least can work up a good bit of frustrating-and-annoying over in Ultimates (and the closer-to-fury that was Ultimate X-Men.)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

THE KEEP #1

Considering I have no taste for horror literature and the fear factor of a preschooler when it comes to scary movies, I do seem to wind up with a surprising number of IDW books....

The Keep is apparently an adaptation of a bestselling novel by F. Paul Wilson ("apparently" because I don't seek out that genre of fiction and couldn't care less about the NYT bestseller list). It's about... well, a keep. Tucked into the Romanian Alps, a mysterious stronghold lies along a supply route of Hitler's army. When funky stuff starts happening there, an officer is sent to investigate the story behind the cryptic note "something is killing my men". The murders are first assumed to be the work of the local resistance, but by the end it is clear that they are something else entirely. This first episode (of five) lays the groundwork both for the story's context as well as the emphasis on why the beleaguered captain wrote "something" and not "someone".

For an adaptation, this was a pretty impressive first issue. Actually, for any first issue of a story in a standalone universe, it was a pretty impressive first issue. Matthew Smith's art is spare and clear when it comes to telling the story -- uncluttered by narrative boxes or wasted dialogue, the panels are effective at showing everything from the creepiness of the enigmatic fortress to the rising body count to the disintegration of the confidence of the garrisoned soldiers. Whatever's going on in the keep is coming at a quiet, steady, malevolent creep and it looms in the darkness well.

Another selling point of this book is that it doesn't steep itself in stereotypes and pretend they're character development. There aren't a ton of gratuitous "Mein Gott!!"s or other comic book tropes for agitated Germans and while everyone except the caretaker Alexandru wears the swastika of Hitler's forces, there's not a lot of babbling about master races and other Nazi propaganda points. As far as this first issue goes, they are soldiers more than they are Nazi Soldiers and that's more interesting than the one gratuitous mention of Auschwitz.

As with all IDW books, The Keep is pricey ($3.99) but, like most IDW books, arguably worth it. If you enjoy this genre, I definitely think it is worth the cost.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

HAWKMAN #45

Speaking of badness (well, if you're scrolling up...)

I spent months griping about the tiredness of the "oh, no, Hawkman/Hawkgirl is dead!!!" storyline. I threw in some additional kvetching about how while the entire DCU is being sucked into Infinite Crisis, the fact that Hawkman was actively running against it while its characters were currently featured in one of the main prequel books was... nonsensical. No need to repeat either point because they are both still abundantly valid.

Instead, I will wonder aloud how Palmiotti&Gray can justify foregoing the Crisis II tie-in so that they could instead turn around and make the Hawkman legacy that much more confusing. Because, really, what readers need is to convolute the whole Thanagar/Egyptian/Shazam legacy that much more so that the characters of Hawkman and Hawkgirl are completely inaccessible to anyone without a lot of patience and the DC Encyclopedia.

Pages and pages of explanatory narrative -- Hello, Exposition Fairy! -- to retcon/revisit/invent/complicate the Hawk backstory was the last thing that should have been taking up space here. I spent months working to close the gap in my Hawkworld run and I didn't care. Charley Parker wasn't very entertaining with the Titans and he wasn't very entertaining here and oh, look, he's actually a raving half-Thanagarian loony with Daddy Issues. And then we had the Agatha Christie denouement-in-the-parlor scene, complete with Ollie Queen -- because GA and Carter have such a long, strong, friendly bond -- and the rump of the JSA, attempting to ignore the end of JSA: Black Reign. (And, as much as I like the idea of ignoring Michael Holt when at all possible, maybe the current JSA chairman should have been consulted before Carter got re-admitted.)

The whole romantic subplot with Kendra and Carter was more shrugworthy than anything else. I'm apparently the only one slightly squicked by the idea of Carter getting his groove on with his great-niece, but Kendra did have a few good points when she chewed him out about not letting her in on the plan after he'd let Hector help. The dinner date felt fanficcy what with the cape and the acquired clothes and suddenly Kendra knows about fashion.

Art... blech. I have nothing new to gripe about Joe Bennett that I haven't done more thoroughly when discussing Birds of Prey, but I will point out that the Carter-Charley fight was muddled and cluttered and not easy to pick out who was talking and who was getting impaled.



JLA #120

I knew this was a lost cause the moment I realized that this issue was only readable if done in the style of Willam Shatner-as-Captain Kirk.

That first page... with all the narrative... monologue... broken up by random ellipses... and full of unintentionally ironic pomposity... segues into typical Bob Harras lousy dialogue (broken by random ellipses) and eye-crossing attempts at plot. It felt like the X-Men again, especially once Dawn started talking about the astral plane. She was Jean to J'onn's Xavier and I started having flashbacks and mental run-time errors.

I honestly couldn't read this too closely. I was skimming along until the dirt-scattering ceremony, but I was never a Trekkie and emulating William Shatner couldn't keep me entertained for long. This was such a conglomeration of randomness and badness and whichever characters aren't currently being made dead or evil in Crisis II and all it did was reinforce that my JLA ended around when The Obsidian Age did (and stopped being a must-read after Waid left).

Tom Derenick's art doesn't do anything for me -- except make me grab my foot in sympathy for that one panel where the unhappy foreshortening of Dawn's leg makes her look like a club-footed hobbit.

Unrelated, which shouldn't matter considering the book: Is anyone keeping a tally of who has gotten dead and evil over in Infinite Crisis?

EX MACHINA #15

Way to go spreading the secret recipe for NYC's award-winning water, Vaughan. (No, really, it does win taste tests.)

Really random hydro moment aside, this was a pretty cool issue. Even if it does largely take place outside of New York and Vaughan thinks that Mets fans are the nasty ones.

Mitchell Hundred's parental issues are well played here, staying strong and complicated without becoming sappy. That flashback to the storm, where Hundred saves the mother before the children, could be just another example of Hundred's idiot savant social skills, but it also fits perfectly into what we learn about his childhood. When someone loses one parent at a young age and is raised by the other, there's a skewed dynamic between the surviving parent and the child and Hundred's relationship with his mother felt appropriately tilted. Not-so-buried anger, disappointment, simple growing apart with time, and divergent philosophies... versus the remnants of that us-against-the-world bond. Throw in some pretty cool uses of Hundred's abilities to track down his mother's cell phone and his putting everything aside to find her only to have her playing cool once he does... nice.

Also nice was that Hundred assumed the mystery woman was Suzanne Padilla.

Better than nice was Tony Harris's art. Harris is always great, but he had a nice range of scenes to work with here, from the western trailer park scenes (Hannibal's sword-wielding and his surplus of bandaids especially) to City Hall to the digital chase through the ether and it all looked lovely. I've been amused by the cover since the image was solicited.

Overall, a snappy start to a short arc.



Friday, October 14, 2005

INFINITE CRISIS #1

A few months ago, I think I would have reacted to this issue with a good bit of vitriol and some withering sarcasm. Because, really, it's deserving of it. The logical loopholes are quite maddening, the convenient forgetting of all recent canon that doesn't jibe with the story is frustrating coming from DC's official Kontinuity Kop, the plot -- such as it is -- is entirely reliant on having read fifty other series and their crossovers and being familiar with Pre-Crisis I history, and Geoff Johns's mad-on for Wonder Woman, which has long vacillated between misogyny (yes, I am going to go there) and unimaginativeness, has come to full fruition.

In short, Infinite Crisis #1 was everything that has ever pissed me off about Geoff Johns, but with mostly gorgeous Phil Jimenez art. (I still don't like the way Jimenez draws angry people talking.)

So why no kicking and screaming? Why no sharp teeth and claws? The Shrew is not The Shrew without tatters and blood and viscera spread out upon the stage...

Because my first reaction to reading this book was to be vastly and completely underwhelmed:

That's it?

The entire DCU has been dragged into this black hole for the past... year. Every book, no matter how irrelevant to the story, has been affected. Storylines were submarined, gratuitous cameos engineered, entire books hijacked, and characters turned into strangers for the sake of build-up. We had the four prequel series, one of which (Rann/Thanagar War) had its own prequel (Adam Strange: Planet Heist) and a couple of longboxes worth of tie-in issues. Every reader of a DC book has been frogmarched toward this bottleneck of a story....

... and it started with a whimper and not a bang.

What we were (okay, what I was) hoping for was to be rewarded for managing to tread water and keep up with eighty mostly irrelevant characters and a dozen pedestrian storylines and a pathetic case of reverse engineering an origin for a cataclysmic event when they decided to make Identity Crisis the primum mobile of the New World Order.

What I wanted out of Infinite Crisis was Armageddon on the half-shell. What I got was the first part of the book of Revelation done in the style of George Lucas.

Especially the part with him messing up the original house-of-cards storyline that used to be sacrosanct and is now being stripped for parts.

Either because of burn-out or residual addlepatedness from last week's flu shot, I utterly failed to get excited about the return of the Multiverse. I am perfectly happy to leave Pre-Crisis I continuity to 1986 and Elseworlds and the odd wink-wink-nudge-nudge reference. I've got buddies who are delirious with joy at the return of folks like the Psycho Pirate, but I'm not. And I say this as someone who has deep and abiding love for parts of Pre-Crisis I continuity: it should have stayed in the past.

Sure, it's only the first issue, but I can't imagine this turning out any kind of okay because I don't trust Johns and company to do anything worthwhile with this newly accessible storehouse of material. As Johns has proven for years over in JSA, where he added a new character every three issues because he couldn't build a team or set up a self-sustaining microcosm for the book, more isn't necessarily better. Sometimes it's just more.

This first book was inauspicious in the extreme. It was talky, it was largely irrational, it was clunky, and it was boring. It binds Diana in a trap made of Lincoln Logs and bubble gum so that she may pay for what she did in Sacrifice. It makes both Batman and Superman into sanctimonious, hypocritical, unlikable jerks. It fails comprehensively when compared to Identity Crisis and probably equates with the turgid Crisis on Infinite Earths #1, which is no great compliment. All we have to look forward to is some more character assassination, some clumsy maneuvering, a wealth of references nobody under the age of 25 will understand without the DC Encyclopedia, and a new DCU where everything is bright and shiny and nobody kills anyone ever because there's never a just cause and if we're just better behaved, people won't hate us as much. And here I'd thought I'd freed myself of the X-Men.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Shrew Does Some More Admin


* Because it was posted weeks ago but now the movie is finally out: the Mirrormask review.

* The Death Jr. trade will be out in November. This is the darned nifty Mike Mignola cover art. Put this on your wishlists, folks.

* Still embarrassingly behind on the Infinite Crisis reading and have resorted to cheating because, well, that pile looks no more appealing the longer it sits there unread.

* Whither reviews? Coming, but sporadically. September was an unintentionally eventful month and October, because of the Jewish holidays, was always scheduled to be erratic. The Day of Atonement rates higher than the Day of Vengeance. It has been my policy to keep the Secret Life of Insectivores as just that, but I've been disappearing with such regularity that I feel I sort of owe an apology to readers. So... I'm sorry for the AWOLs. I can't promise that it won't happen again, in fact it probably will, but it's not from disinterest. Spirit willing, flesh annoyingly weak. And I've read too much Warren Ellis to seriously imagine replacing the offending parts. Aliens and rotor blades may end up involved.

So... a Happy New Year to everyone (party like it's 5766!) and go see Serenity.

POLLY & THE PIRATES #1 (of 6)

Ted Naifeh, creator of the Courtney Crumrin series and collaborator on the recently completed Death Jr. mini, has created a cute little story that does for Gilbert & Sullivan what Courtney Crumrin did for Harry Potter. Namely, turn it on its ear. Like G&S, Polly & the Pirates is naughty and contemporary if you want it to be, but timeless and good-natured on the whole.

Clever, accessible, light-hearted, and full of the little artistic quirks that are Naifeh's hallmarks (most of which rate as charming, except for the claw-like hands), this is a good all-ages read.




Friday, September 23, 2005

The Shrew eyeballs the Image solicits

(Yes, yes, going to the shop today, will have reviews this weekend)

DC's solicits brought out the snark, Marvel's just made my eyes cross, but Image has some stuff coming out in December that might be entertaining:


DUSTY STAR #1
Written by Andrew Robinson and Joe Pruett, art and cover by Robinson.
It's a different time and a strange place. It's burlesque shows and all-night poker games, robots and flying ships, tattooed horses and new wave cowboys and cowgirls with bad attitudes. This is the world of Dusty Star, a tough-as-nails gunslinger with a steely-eyed gaze and a draw as fast as greased lighting! An appealing blend of western, science fiction, adventure and humor.

.... I liked Daisy Kutter, so I may give this a try.



THE LOOKING GLASS WARS: HATTER M. #1
Written by Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier, art by Ben Templesmith.
Like a violent birth, Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan explodes through a puddle on the Champs Elysées from his world in the year 1859, shockingly separated from the future Queen of Wonderland he had been entrusted to protect. Pursued by the police, taunted by nationalistic Frenchmen and challenged by an evil black magician, Hatter must evade the authorities while simultaneously searching for lost princess Alyss! The myth of Hatter M begins here.

... this is either going to be totally awesome or a hopeless mess.



KISS & TELL TP
Written and created by Jeff Amano, art by Craig Rousseau, colors by Giulia Brusco, cover by Amano.
Betrayed by all legs and even more curves, Sam Swede finds himself alone and in-between the mob and dirty cops. Having immense strength never gave Sam a reason to use his noggin' much, not even as a private dick. So no one was surprised that Sam got taken to the bank when he met a dame with the upstairs to match her downstairs. The real surprise was how Sam came back and made the whole stinkin' town pay. The critically acclaimed film noir take on the Samson & Delilah classic in one complete volume.

... It having been established that the Shrew will try almost anything with the word "noir" in the description....



BURGLAR BILL #6
CASE FILES: SAM AND TWITCH #24
EXPATRIATE #5

.... Three series I am helplessly, hopelessly behind on and quite ashamed of the fact.

HAWAIIAN DICK: THE LAST RESORT #4

Before the ridiculous delays made it seem like this series would never get finished, I had made the choice to wait for the trade on this one -- the TPB for the Hawaiian Dick: Byrd of Paradise collection remains my gold standard for 'dvd extras' put into a TPB collection. I'm an either/or insectivore when it comes to floppies and trades, but it has taken years for Moore to finish this and I'm antsy and may not be able to wait.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Shrew ponders the December 2005 DC Solicits.

Overall, not much to look forward to since everyone's going to be playing the Crisis II game. A few swipes and suggestions:

ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN, THE BOY WONDER #4
Written by Frank Miller
Art and cover by Jim Lee & Scott Williams

ALL STAR excitement abounds as Frank Miller, Jim Lee & Scott Williams continue their adventurous retelling of the partnership between the Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder! And when some Black Canary gets added to the mix, you can be sure something's going to explode!

... yes. I'm pretty sure it will be the brains of whoever is left reading this series after four issues.



BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS #72
Written by A.J. Lieberman
Art by Al Barrionuevo & Bit
Cover by Claudio Castellini

In a long-forgotten summer home that belonged to Thomas and Martha Wayne, a body turns up that will lead Bruce Wayne to a part of his parents' past he never imagined existed, forcing him to ask himself if his parents' marriage was nothing but a sham!


... Why not? They've already pished all over Dr. Leslie and Alfred's busy being the amnesiac murderer....



BATGIRL #71
Written by Andersen Gabrych
Art by Pop Mhan & Jesse Delperdang
Cover by Tim Sale

In the aftermath of "Destruction's Daughter," Batgirl finds herself on the run with a small band of assassins as the quarry of the unbeatable strike team of Shrike, Alpha, Wam-Wam, Mad Dog and the deadliest woman on Earth - Lady Shiva! How long can they last?

... This is going to be the real test of my affection for Andersen Gabrych. If he can pull this off, he'll be bulletproof because I wouldn't even trust the big boys with a plot this bad.



BATGIRL: KICKING ASSASSINS TP
Written by Andersen Gabrych
Art by Alé Garza, Pop Mhan & Jesse Delperdang
Cover by Garza & Delperdang

... The first trade collecting Gabrych's run on the title. Worth picking up.



GOTHAM CENTRAL #38
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Kano & Stefano Gaudiano
Cover by Sean Phillips

The story everyone's clamored for begins! Corrupt cop Jim Corrigan has crossed the line for the final time, and Allen and Montoya are going to bring him down. But is there any connection between Corrigan and the man who shared his name; the man once known as… the Spectre?

... Rucka is going to tie this into Infinite Crisis and Day of Vengeance. And the series will be lesser for it.



CATWOMAN #50
Written by Will Pfeifer
Art by Pete Woods
Cover by Adam Hughes

The acclaimed creative team of Will Pfeifer, Pete Woods and Adam Hughes reach a milestone issue, and if your name is Selina Kyle, get ready for your world to be rocked! Zatanna arrives with a revelation that causes Catwoman to question who she really is and all she's done in the East End! You heard it here first: This secret will lead Catwoman to a place she's never been before!

... Zatanna's going to confess that the reason Selina went straight is because she was mindwiped like The Top, isn't she.



LEX LUTHOR: MAN OF STEEL TP
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art and cover by Lee Bermejo

Arguably the best miniseries of the year. Pick. This. Up.



CRISIS ON MULTIPLE EARTHS: THE TEAM-UPS VOL. 1 TP
Written by Gardner Fox and John Broome
Art by Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson
Cover by Jerry Ordway

In these eight stories from the pinnacle of the Silver Age of DC Comics, thrill to the exploits of Green Lantern, Flash, Dr. Fate, Hourman, Black Canary and Starman as they oppose the Shade, Captain Cold, Solomon Grundy, and more! This volume collects THE FLASH #123, 129, 137, 151; GREEN LANTERN #40; SHOWCASE #55-56; THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #61.

I've greatly enjoyed these Crisis On Multiple Earths reprints. Far cheaper than the Archive Editions, they're a great way to get newer fans into older stories. Same goes for the SHOWCASE PRESENTS: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA collection out this month.



JLA CLASSIFIED: COLD STEEL #1
Written by Christopher Moeller
Art and cover by Moeller

Get ready for a thrilling 2-issue miniseries written and painted by Christopher Moeller (JLA: A LEAGUE OF ONE)! The JLA members find themselves caught between two warring factions in a deep space conflict that threatens to split the Earth's mightiest super-team down the middle! Time is of the essence, causing the group to quickly choose sides - which may be the heroes' first mistake! As the battle escalates, the team realizes that it must amp-up its collective powers and abilities - leading to the first use of the JLA's towering battle-ready armor!

... Moeller earns a look-see because of League of One, but this looks scarily like the first-ever JLA-Transformers crossover.



JSA #80
Written by Keith Champagne
Art by Don Kramer & Champagne
Cover by Alex Ross

The final battle between Mordru and Dr. Fate rages to its shocking conclusion through the worlds of Kingdom Come and JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NAIL! Plus, the Thunderbolt vs. Jakeem to decide the ultimate fate of the Fifth Dimension! After this issue, two members of the JSA will never be seen again!

... Sadly, none of those disappearing members will be Mr. Terrific or Dr. Fate. In fact, it'll probably be Dr. Mid-Nite and someone else I actually like.



TEEN TITANS #31
Written by Geoff Johns
Art and cover by Tony S. Daniel & Marlo Alquiza

Unexpected allies rise from the dead to help the Titans overthrow Brother Blood's reign of terror!

... Memo to Kontinuity Kop Johns: Tula's been undead. I know, I know, you didn't read the Tempest mini and this must've sounded like a really good idea at the time. Especially since you've never heard of Tempest.

FELL #1

Considering I roasted the last Ellis book I read (Jack Cross #1), this came as a bit of a relief. It still felt like an Ellis book, but more like the Frank Ironwine entry into the Apparat stunt from last year rather than some fifth-generation Spider Jerusalem. The title character is not railing against The System, he's not Too Cool, and he doesn't seem to have any message or agenda.

Detective Richard Fell is both curiously naive as well has thoroughly hard-boiled. It's an interesting mix, one I'm willing to buy for the time being, because of the premise. Transferred to a beseiged city that is thoroughly rotted from the inside out, Fell somehow sees this as a chance for promotion instead of exile, which is how everyone he encounters sees it. Working alone both by choice (his last partner met with an unhappy fate) and by necessity (the precinct is woefully undermanned by the sane and sober), Fell manages to solve his first case despite the apathetic inertia that surrounds him.

Ben Templesmith's moody art serves the story well, coating everything in a mucky grime and ill-suited lighting that shows off the unfortunately named Snowtown as the cesspit it is.

Overall, the book is a success because it's a 16-page story that feels like it's a 22-page story. And for that, at $1.99 a pop, it's worth trying out.





Monday, September 19, 2005

THE WINTER MEN #2

Kris Kalenov's tale continues in this second issue of Brett Lewis's standout miniseries.

Kalenov, a former soldier, spy, superhero, and current policeman and erstwhile wastrel has come to America and gone undercover among the brutal toughs in Little Odessa, aka Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Kalenov is nominally there as a result of a joint operation between the CIA and his bosses to track gangsters and to recover a girl allegedly kidnapped by organ transplant black marketeers. Going undercover is easy -- in a country as corrupt as Russia, a policeman doesn't even need to pretend to fall from grace in order to join under one of the 'roofs' of the red mafiya. Keeping ahead of conflicting interests that are intent on throwing him to the wolves at the first sign of trouble... that's a bit harder.

The Shrew Catches Up

Go AWOL for a fortnight and things happen in your absence.

Books that weren't nearly as bad as feared and have the Shrew worrying that she's mellowing in old age

Outsiders #28... Take away the part with Jade and this actually wasn't a bad issue. Yeah, surprised me, too. Judd Winick once again draws on the 'superhero men express their frustration through hot sex' trope (which I didn't think was a trope outside fanfic), but that really didn't bother me much. Or at all. Rex and Shift and then Grace and Anissa (marking the first time Miss Pierce didn't annoy the heck out of me) all worked. Roy, who was the focus of the last Aftereffects and Consequences issue, didn't have much to do this time, but I thought this was a pretty good Everyone Is Unstrung story.

Colossus: Bloodline #1... I'm still cranky at David Hine for the way District X crashed and burned after a fascinating start, so I was expecting this to be dreadful. And, because I'm a Colossus fangirl, I expected to get very upset because the reason District X nosedived is because Hine managed to populate it with characters displaying disgusting personalities and Piotr's got enough going on without character assassination. I can't say that I was riveted by this and Jorge Lucas's art does nothing for me -- certainly not after that panel where Emma Frost looked like a midget wrestler. But despite the feeling of tired inevitability that comes along with tying Piotr Rasputin in to the Rasputin, this could be an interesting psychodrama.



Books that give the Shrew hope for the future because she's got absolutely nothing nice to say about any of them:

All-Star Batman & Robin #2... I read this because I promised a friend I would. And this is two-for-two in me being accomodating in this fashion and then wishing I could scrub my brain with steel wool. I get that this is supposed to be stylized and odd and there's no such thing as Out Of Character in this Ultimatization of the DCU. But it's terrible even within this context, syncopated and off-kilter because of it. I don't care "which" Bruce this is; he needs medication and fast.

JSA #77... Blech. An issue about Airwave and Hal Jordan? Podperson Alan Scott guest-stars in the issue, too -- Geoff Johns feeling completist needs in terms of controlling Green Lanterns. And there's Donna Troy and some platitudes and the rest of the JSA sitting around mute except for Michael Holt, whom we only wish were mute. And the art was unpleasant, too.

Wonder Woman #220... All-around good guy Jonah gets sacrificed to the altar of Infinite Crisis, going from awesome perspective voice to fanatically dedicated minion and all-around bastard. Ugh. Apparently I have missed the part of the Max Lord storyline where everyone in the world (superhero or otherwise) knows that Diana killed Max and chooses to look at it without mitigating circumstances or context. Because the grapevine works so well, you know -- that's why the Teen Titans were up-to-date on Dr. Light the other month (not) and why everyone is aware of the mindwiping thing (also not). The scene with Batman just disappointed me, even considering Bruce in general and Rucka's take on the Diana-Bruce relationship in particular.

Nightwing #112... When mediums collide. The various incarnations of Toon Titans Robin are brought to the funnybook as Red X and Slade's Apprentice get absorbed into a Dick Grayson who is really too stupid to survive childhood, let alone a superhero career. Dick's railing at Deathstroke rang hollow, the scenes with Rose were achingly ridiculous, and the less said about anything involving either Sophia Tevis or Helena, the better. It's a good thing rumor has Dick reprising his Prodigal role post-Crisis II because, wow, Devin Grayson is burning everything Nightwing straight down to the ground and salting the earth for good measure, ain't she.



Books that remind the Shrew that not everything is as bad as anything pertaining to Infinite Crisis:

Ex Machina #14... geek love. Mayor Hundred gets proactive, Kremlin and Bradbury get in and out of trouble and bail out their old buddy, Commissioner Agnotti is saved from making a spectacle of herself, and did I mention the pure geekdom on display? Like the Tag arc, yet another subtle reminder that Mitchell Hundred is very much not dealing with the ambient weirdness that surrounds his powers. Hundred isn't alone in his abilities, but he does seem to be the only one who is still sane and still alive.

Captain America #9... I still see no real good reason to keep Sharon Carter around, but this was a fun issue if only because I get glee any time the UN looks shady and corrupt. Nick Fury hates being had and he got had good here. Michael Lark's NYC scenes gives me hope for his upcoming run on Daredevil and I'm starting to suspect the Who Is The Winter Soldier question is going to go on longer than the Who Killed Laura Palmer one.


Saturday, September 17, 2005

FABLES #41

While there were a few sneaky turns here, the final installment of Homelands felt a little rushed and abruptly ended.

Considering that most of the last two issues have been expository -- and most of those with Boy Blue in a birdcage -- Bill Willingham has been unusually deft (okay, so I'm apparently still smarting from Batman #644) in handling it. How the Adversary's empire was built and solidified, how to naturally explain Willingham's planned shift toward a more global scope of fables, and the introduction of a possibly important plot twist in Fabletown (the real Red Riding Hood after Baba Yaga's deception) have all been given lucid, reasonable purpose. Gepetto's slide from well-intentioned puppeteer to coldly efficient king maker has been a joy to read because it's completely logical and seamless. Especially when compared to Boy Blue's story arc, which depends fairly heavily on having read The Last Castle for it not to feel a little random.

The end, however, felt a little too neat. The reveal of Blue's mission being a covertly sanctioned one works well enough -- he is the sort of hardened veteran warrior who can handle the danger of the mission and the burden of returning to a world that doesn't understand it. It was just the returning part that bothered me. Blue's been doing nifty stuff with the cape and the sword all along, but his escape just felt too easily accomplished considering that he's in the den of the Adversary himself. Snicker-snack and home again, even if he left a very angry Gepetto behind... I didn't care for it.

Too-clean resolution aside, Homelands stands as one of the strongest Fables arcs in a while and gives fresh enthusiasm for what comes next. The trade paperback is out around Christmas, I think.




DEATH JR. #3

And so concludes one of the most delightful miniseries of the year.

A rollicking good time like the first two installments, this issue is the one that most clearly ties the book into the forthcoming video game. For the most part it's not really a problem and this never reads like a commercial; there's a bit of a shift of focus to a more actiony story, but it largely works. It certainly helps that writer Gary Whitta has decided not to treat the video game imperative with any seriousness, keeping it relevant without making it the primum mobile. Ted Naifeh handles the shift smoothly and with more dynamism than I expected he would.

Way back when I reviewed the first issue, I brought up how pleasingly subversive this story actually is. Like The Incredibles, Death Jr. is ultimately a wholesome, positive story about family, friends, and growing up. It just promotes ideals like family love, self-esteem, loyalty, friendship, and courage in a fashion that manages to be entertaining instead of corny, sneaking the good stuff past the post-modern and the cynical by simply being funny and smart and appealing to all ages groups.

Whitta and Naifeh have proven a fantastic team, the former's razor-sharp (and never mean spirited) wit being well matched with the latter's endless vocabulary of facial expressions and body posture. The result is a story that is clever both visually and textually. A little like when Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev are really cruising on Daredevil, except without the reliance on realism and that makes it a bit more of a challenge. Any future collaborations will be looked for most eagerly.

Image Comics being Image Comics, whether this will be collected into a trade paperback is anyone's guess. This is a series worth paying back issue markup to have, though.

As for the actual video game... The Shrew is among the video game inept and probably won't be picking it up because of that. Those of you who are gamers, I expect a report.

Friday, September 16, 2005

SUPREME POWER #18

Yet another season finale that left me cold.

Supreme Power has been a supreme frustration for the duration of its run. This should have been so very, very good and it wasn't. It was JM Straczynski's chance to take what he learned from the similarly themed Rising Stars and make a second effort that was leaner, meaner, and had a more manageable cast. But in trimming the fat, Straczynski ended up cutting away the soul.

The individual characters reimagined from Squadron Supreme are, on the whole, fantastically rendered character sketches. Good Soldier Joe Ledger's oddly sweet pairing with Kingsley; Nighthawk's bitter, self-indulgent, self-deluding bigotry; Stan's strain to keep his moral grounding in the wake of commercial and governmental powers greater than he can understand; Mark Milton's race to absorb the truths he learns and his unwillingness to play to type.

The problem is that those sketches are never filled out past their utilitarian design. We don't especially empathize with anyone, certainly not in the way John or Randy or Chandra or Jason or anyone from Rising Stars. The characters here are merely extensions of their roles and remain enigmatic instead of drawing us in to their plight. The Specials in RS all had so-human strengths and weaknesses -- fear of parental disapproval, jealousy, self-esteem, shyness, ambition, anger, and forty different kinds of the loneliness that comes from being a geek in a group of freaks. Not enough of that comes through in Supreme Power, where nobody seems to either genuinely enjoy their abilities or mourn what makes them different. It all felt a little... businesslike. Paradigms that are interestingly painted, but are plastic action figures nonetheless.

The actual story of this first act -- Supreme Power returns after a miniseries-filled hiatus, but as a Marvel Knights title instead of a MAX book -- is an old Big Brother Gone Bad story done well... until JMS rolls off the rails at the end, which is pretty much what he did with RS, too.

All throughout this series, the scenes where Hyperion challenges his former masters crackle, the irresistable force slamming into the unmovable object. But they often got bogged down by distractions, mostly in the The Military Is Eeeeevil! style. Certainly in this last issue, which seemed almost as much about President Chimpy McHaliburton (featuring the sadly wronged Clintons (cough, retch) in a cameo) and mocking the War on Terror than it did about setting up the premise that will have the Squadron actually formed in the next series. Those jump-cut not-quite-reaction shots repeating the speech weren't enough to establish a solid idea of what is coming next. Which would also be true to form -- JMS loves leaving it to the miniseries to establish means, motive, opportunity after presenting the crime and going away. We finished this series not knowing much of anything about the characters or how they will spend the hiatus. And perhaps not caring. That is a failure, not a cliffhanger.

Gary Frank, who worked with JMS on the superb (and superior) Midnight Nation, has done a spectacular job on art for all of the issues and I would be remiss in not pointing that out.

ASTONISHING X-MEN #12

I've been out of the loop for a bit, so is it all right to be a little underwhelmed by the season finale of Astonishing X-Men?

Overall, I'm of very mixed opinion about the issue and the season (borrowing the usage from American television and Ed Brubaker's Sleeper). There were some fantastic moments of characterization and human drama. Everything with Piotr and Kitty, separately and together, was superb. The sureness of Scott's tactical skills combined with his far more uneasy navigation of the personal. Hank's despair at a mutation gone one step too far and recollection of the joy he once took in it.

There were also plenty of whiskey-tango-foxtrot character moments -- for example, almost anything to do with Logan. Emma split the difference and the last-issue reveal of Charles Xavier's actions was deplorable even if you're sick of his pacifist-past-the-point-of-reason ways. And I am. But considering that the last issue took place in Genosha, that the memory of past travesties in Genosha was key to saving the day... go back one atrocity before the nuking and you are back with Jenny Ransom and the enslavement of the mutates and that jars incompatibly with Xavier's newfound pragmatism. Xavier's tolerance and idealism, however irritating, cannot be warped in this fashion.

The plot of both season and issue... was a mess. There were enough dropped threads here to knit a sweater and I don't care if they are all going to tie into things in Season Two. It felt sloppy, not generally a trait associated with Joss Whedon.

Whatever happened to Agent Brand and her case? What about the kids at the mansion? What about the other X-Men? What about the aliens? What about SHIELD being compromised? All of these things got forgotten in favor of Emma's cohort stepping out of the shadows. And while I'm all for a Hellfire Club plot that builds upon the real power someone like Sebastian Shaw would have, all this does is toss another chunk of unattached, unresolved plot onto the bonfire. Emma's place with the team dates back to the nuclear bombing of Genosha, so this is an arc that (either coopted from Grant Morrison or simply following through on his original intent) has been around for a long while. Why is the Hellfire Club deciding now to infiltrate the X-Men?

I'm not all disillusionment and disappointment here. Colossus fangirl or not, the return of Piotr Rasputin was arguably the best reanimation of a dead X-Man in a long time. Possibly ever. Buffy and Willow were only the test runs because Whedon did so much for Kitty Pryde that not even the forgettable current miniseries can dim her light. And, plot failures or not, this was the only readable X-Men core book for the duration of its existence. I look forward, without reservation, to the second season.




Whither the Shrew? A few days off turned into a fortnight and I apologize for going AWOL and thank those who expressed their concern. This is still a hobby and sometimes Real Life must come first and foremost and sometimes there are distractions both serious and frivolous that must be followed. The backlog will get attacked -- I'm so far behind on anything to do with Infinite Crisis that I don't want to contemplate it -- and the snark shall return.

Friday, September 02, 2005

NORTHWEST PASSAGE #1

Bottom line right at the top: Scott Chantler's historical action-drama is entertaining and mercifully steers clear of pedantry, politics, and PC preaching. Clearly and simply drawn, it's a near-perfect book for a younger teen reader.

This was cute, and I mean that in a positive way. Chantler's first big project is fantastic as far as debuts go. The narrative is clear, the story moves quickly and crisply, there is little abuse at the hands of the Exposition Fairy, and there's an actual plot made richer by historical detail of frontier Canada.

Charles Lord, reluctant governor of a trading colony, is eager to return to the adventuring of his younger days and looks upon his retirement and return to England as the first step in that direction. However, his plans to return to the Admiralty Office in London, procure funding and permission, and return to Canada to seek out the elusive Northwest Passage are quickly going awry. An old associate, a Cree shaman, shows up with both literal and spiritual harbingers of doom and Lord's old enemy is approaching... with Lord's nephew as an unwilling traveling partner. Meanwhile, Lord's sullen son is moping around the camp. It's no surprise that everyone went back to work the minute Lord left the party.

Chantler's art is simple and effective and very reminiscent of the hand-drawn animation of an old Disney movie. It's a style that probably skews more toward younger readers, but older ones will appreciate the little details that creep in.

What keeps me from adoring this book, as opposed to merely thinking it a successful debut, is that... for all the ways Chantler has invested the plot and characterizations with historical accuracy, there are no surprises, no complications, no grays in the black-and-white world. There are the good guys, the bad guys, the noble Indian, the innocent would-be adventurer, the conflicted son who must choose who he will become, the faithful sidekick who wants to retire and will probably get dragged back into things at cost of his life. It's all a bit too straightforward, which is why I think it's a better choice for a younger reader, someone who won't see as much coming and can simply enjoy the fast-paced adventure without knowing what's coming around the bend. Chantler hasn't quite mastered the dual-level storytelling that makes something appeal to both adults and children, the way a Shrek or an Owly can.

Oni Press rated the book, which is in digest format, T for 13-and-over. There are implications of violence and a reference to sex and if you take that one semi-oblique reference out, I think the book would work just as well and may get a broader acceptance from parents who are looking for reading material for their progeny.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Shrew Encourages Philanthropy Again

Yesterday's post.

Repeating the plea because the death toll is over 200 and rising. Give $5. Give $10. Give $3. Just give.

The Shrew is giving to the American Red Cross, but also recommends:
Catholic Charities
Samaritan's Purse
Solders' Angels' Operation: Katrina Soldier Relief Fund (think of the soldiers overseas who have no home to come home to; there are LA National Guards currently deployed to Iraq)
B'nai B'rith International (disaster relief link on upper left)

Bill Hennessy's Homes for Katrina page has more info for giving and receiving aid as well as news sources. Michelle Malkin is blogging comprehensively on the news.

The Shrew is taking part in the Hurricane Katrina blog-for-relief event.

For more info: Technorati pings for |

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Shrew Bites: DC

JSA CLASSIFIED #2.... Lamest excuse ever for why PG's rack is on display. I'm sorry, Geoff, but that bit of attempted retconning is going over about as well as blaming the Giant Yellow Locust of Fear for Hal Jordan's gray hair. Also, the original Sacrifice arc is going on for entirely too long; repeating it -- especially the decompressed parts that were Supes fighting against enemies only he could see that were really manifestations of his subconscious fears -- makes no sense as a choice to debut a new series. Power Girl and her backstory are padded enough and there's no need to pile on the tonnage. Amanda Conner's art is doing absolutely nothing for me.



OMAC PROJECT #5... Poor Sasha. Rucka's gone and turned a character (he created) who was strong, brave, intelligent, and truly human and not only made her all robot-ty, but also made her an ugly robot. Yes, yes, she had her 'am I man or am I machine' moment (if she survives Infinite Crisis, will we get her to star in DC's version of Mann & Machine?) and we could have seen this coming for a while, but... I dunno. I liked the idea of a human actor in this drama who wasn't as cynical and suspicious about powers as Max or Bruce. They killed off Ted, Ray is AWOL, and the rest are too far removed (except Ollie, but he's annoying).

The Million Machine March would be a cooler threat if we didn't know that there will have to be a deus ex machina ending to keep from vaporizing the planet in the next and final issue. My bet is on Sasha.



TEEN TITANS #27... I think Andersen Gabrych's Batgirl #65 was a far superior Father's Day themed issue. This story may have gone over better if there hadn't been Rob Liefeld art gumming up the works if the timing wasn't so off -- running a Father's Day story in August with an October date stamp on the cover smacks of randomness. The cry-for-attention plot and clunky dialogue felt a little hokey and Hallmark drama-ish and since when are Tim and Vic best buddies? Sure, Dick is off having his guts run through the ringer over in Nightwing, but Tim imprinted on him like a baby duck by the time Batman: Prodigal finished. Vic is a far more empathetic type than most people realize but this, too, felt out of left field.

And, sadly, my ability to keep reading the minute those awful Hawk and Dove creatures appear is still nil. The Parent Trap Twins make me cross-eyed every time they have a word bubble.



BATMAN: JECKYLL & HYDE #5... I don't think too much of the story, which isn't bad but is far too close to Batman Begins to be any sort of comfy, and Paul Jenkins mixes in some lovely turns of phrase with bits of dialogue that make me double-take (in a not-good way). But between Jae Lee's first half and Sean Phillips' second half, this is by far one of the most gorgeous Batman miniseries in recent memory.

LEGION OF SUPERHEROES #9

This month's lesson: fakers won't be tolerated.

I came out of this issue not too impressed with any Legionnaire save for Lyle, which may or may not have been Mark Waid's intent. I felt bad for Cham, who continues to give lie to Waid's odd description of him as "poisonously bitter" by acting every bit the child torn between two fighting parents, but the rest of the gang...

Brainy's arrogance is going to get someone hurt, Cos rightfully gets scorned by the disillusioned when he tries to preach what he cannot practice, and Imra puts on a masterful performance of teenage attitude by lying to her mother and then demanding to be taken seriously despite her age while simultaneously dismissing her mother's concerns purely for the same reason.

Lyle is going to save the Legion and the UP in spite of themselves. And really, he's quite crafty about it. And a little ruthless. Good stuff, especially because the only thing keeping him from looking almost as scary-smart as Brainy is his constant need to apologize for his false start with the team.

Next issue, with the more tactically oriented Cos in the same field of play as the strategic Brainy... a mess, but a gleeful one. Will Brainy and Lyle become conspirators or competitors? They started out more the former, but with Lyle so clearly on Cos's side, that may be a bridge burned too far.

With that traditional partnership up in question, Waid is continuing a different tradition -- someone in the Legion has the head of the UP for a mom. I'll take bets for what issue number it is when President Ardeen is put in mortal peril.

I can't say I was overly awed by Georges Jeanty's art. While the Legionnaires finally really looked their ages, Jeanty's pencils have a bit of a manga feel to them that doesn't jibe with my aesthetic.

Barry Kitson was back on pencils for the letters column, which was an inspired bit of zaniness. There ain't nothing to be done with the fact that the Star Boy who appeared in Starman couldn't possibly be the fellow who is currently wearing the costume. So Waid did the only thing he could do -- made a joke about reboots. Fantastic.

The Shrew Thinks Beyond Funnybooks

Today is New Comics Day... in most places. In southern Mississippi and Louisiana, they have greater concerns. New Orleans has truly become No Man's Land. There is looting, there are prison riots, and there are dead bodies floating in the streets. And there will be no Batman to save them.

Here's a proposition:

This is the list of books coming out today.
This is a list of charities and relief organizations working toward hurricane relief.


(a) If you're flush with funds, pick the book you're most looking forward to reading and donate that amount to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.
There's some highly anticipated stuff coming out today -- Astonishing X-Men ($2.99), Captain America ($2.99), Death Jr. ($4.99), Ex Machina ($2.99), Green Lantern ($2.99), etc. Heck, celebrate the fact that an issue of Daredevil: Father ($2.99) is coming out.

(b) If you're less flush with funds, pick a book you're willing to go without for a week and donate that amount.
You can wait a week for Losers ($2.99) or Usagi Yojimbo ($2.99).

(c) Pick out the book that is your bet for the most miserable. Spend that money on something more worthwhile.
Here's a hint: Robin #141 ($2.50) is out today.

Giving something is better than giving nothing. Don't be embarrassed to give $3 or $5. Three people giving $3 is better than twenty people giving nothing because they don't 'feel right' giving so little. If you have more, then consider giving more -- maybe match your total bill at the funnybook store. But don't not give.

(The Shrew is giving to the American Red Cross, but also recommends Catholic Charities and Samaritan's Purse.)

For more info: Technorati pings for |

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Mirrormask

A few months ago, I muttered something about a movie screening. This was it.
Mirrormask, the first film from longtime collaborators Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean (Sandman, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, Violent Cases) is a visual feast. It is a project that strongly resonates with their past efforts even as it expands their vision into three dimensions. Fans of Gaiman's prose and graphic novels will recognize character archetypes and stylistic themes. Meanwhile McKean's aesthetic, with its elements of exquisite beauty sharing space with the macabre, has been expanded to fit this new format without losing any detail in the rendering. The film is an achievement all the more impressive because of the budgetary constraints; financed like an art-house project, it has been edited to feel like a blockbuster.



Spoilers? Yes and no. Do I give away the ending? Not really. But I give away other stuff.

Monday, August 29, 2005

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #643

I'm split on this issue. Part of it was strong and riveting for its fury and part of it just gave me an uncomfortableness about future events in Infinite Crisis.

The recap part of the issue seemed unnecessary -- the whole problem with Sacrifice was that it went on too long over just this ground, the whole Superman Loses His Focus When Lois Is In Danger angle combined with the Seeing Villains Who Aren't There bit. Greg Rucka wasted half an issue reminding us what we couldn't possibly have forgotten so quickly, including the death of Max Lord, which really didn't get added to enough to justify redoing from Superman's angle.

Why Clark reacted the way he did to Diana's actions and reactions... that just stinks of foreboding. Or just stinks. I mean, Diana's the original warrior princess, right? Warriors kill people. Clark knows this. If that had been Hawkman wringing Max's neck, Clark wouldn't have batted an eyelash. But Diana? He's completely untracked by her lack of guilt-wracked angst.

Not to mention completely oblivious to the fact that she saved his life by doing so (yes, just like the tag line says).

If he would have stopped to think about it, Clark would have realized that if Max didn't have him do something suicidal, there's a really good chance that Diana would have had to kill him. Nowhere in his righteous anger and confusion does he stop, pause, admit that he was murderously out of control and the helpless and dangerous pawn of a supervillain. A supervillain whose general plan was to crush his soul by using him as a weapon of mass destruction and then destroy him. Diana would have had to kill him to save innocents and he would have never had a problem with her choice. But because she cut to the chase and killed Max before that need arose... he's terrified of what she's capable of doing? For a guy with X-ray vision, he certainly can't see very well.

Thankfully, Bruce is around to point out some of this. That confrontation, which absolutely crackled, saved this issue from sheer frustration. Superman wants to think of himself as Clark, inherently decent and good, but Bruce won't go along. Because while Bruce is willing to trust Clark, as much as he trusts anyone, he doesn't see Superman as Just Clark. It is the remainder of Superman that is Kal-El's sheer power that comes into play. Kal-El cannot be trusted because he cannot really be stopped except by extraordinary means.

Overall: sloppy storytelling overcome by one awesome shouting match.

SMOKE #3

In a week where Warren Ellis proves a pale copy of himself, Alex de Campi gives us confidence that the next wave of spy thriller conspiracy theorists is ready to assume command.

Smoke concludes with a bang, very literally, but leaves enough open both to keep it from ending too neatly as well as to allow for the possibility of future stories featuring Rupert Cain. The bad guys haven't lost, but neither have the good guys. In life as in the shadowy world of politics, there is no such thing as black and white and there is no such thing as a clean slate. The cycle goes on and all the survivors can do is learn from the experience. Which is really how it should be.

DAREDEVIL #76

Ah, back to the good stuff.

The Decalogue wasn't bad, was in fact quite good in spots, but it was exactly what it was -- an homage to a European art house flick disguised as a miniseries. Comic books are already morality plays, so throwing in opaque symbolism and mood lighting... not so necessary.

But with the start of The Murdoch Chronicles, Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev begin their swan song on Daredevil on a high note. We've got Ben Urich back, we've got Kingpin, and most importantly, we've got Foggy Nelson back. Foggy's evolution from bowtied boob to intelligent, complex man may stand as Bendis's greatest contribution to the Daredevil legacy (at least in my book) and I've missed him tremendously as the key supporting character in this melodrama.

In the first volume of Daredevil, Matt was the blind one, but Foggy was the one who couldn't see. This time around, especially with Bendis, Foggy is the observer. He watches Matt with an interested eye, afraid for his friend when Matt's recklessness gets the better of him and afraid for himself because so much of his personal and professional lives are entwined with Daredevil's. Foggy is involved in Daredevil's world and doesn't take that involvement passively -- he's fearful for them both, but he's not a coward by any stretch. Foggy is steadfast and loyal, but he's not an idealist and he's not an idiot and he knows that Matt is just cavalier enough to get him killed.

Of course, the flip side of the coin is that Foggy got a helluva lot funnier once he stopped being slapstick comic relief. Bendis's love of banter has never worked better than when Foggy and Matt are together. Their opening scene of this issue, with the blind jokes and Foggy's peculiar take on using Matt as a wingman, was fantastic. It feels like they haven't verbally sparred like that since the first time Milla walked into the room... which is precisely why it's unsurprising that the conversation is aborted by what will probably be the last time Milla walks into the room.

With things finally looking up for Matt for the first time since the outing, it's no surprise that everything comes crashing down. That it looks like Ben Urich was the engine for this latest crushing blow... There is more to this than what it looks like, of course, because Ben has previously sabotaged his own career to protect Matt and because this wouldn't be a five-issue arc if there weren't.

Alex Maleev, whose distinctive style has so gorgeously informed this title's path for so long, gets to play to his strengths -- reaction shots, still moments, and the minutia that make his shots of New York City come alive. He gets the little things, intimate details like the New York Sun paperweights at the newsstand, that are so essential in Daredevil. Because Daredevil is ultimately the love story of a man and his neighborhood.

I cannot imagine a better succession on Daredevil than from Bendis and Maleev to Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark. But with the start of this final arc, Bendis and Maleev are making sure they leave a near-impossible act to follow.

JACK CROSS #1

Warren Ellis hasn't degenerated into a parody of himself, but with the first issue of Jack Cross, he's certainly getting close to franchising. Like McDonalds, there's nothing here that we couldn't get in one of half a dozen other Ellis stories. The result is something that's a little stale and a lot familiar, warmed over by sitting under a heat lamp before it's handed over to the consumer by a sketchy-looking dude in a funny shirt.

Jack Cross is a typical Ellis protagonist: obscenely proficient in antisocial activities, a snappy dresser, bearing at least one addiction that is made to look roguish and cool, and espousing the sort of political opinions formed by listening to the BBC while making coffee in the morning. But bereft of snappy patter, he's just not as cool as they usually turn out -- the last one, Ocean's Nathan Kane, was quite fun -- and that, when combined with the reheated plot, makes this an unremarkable story. We already know what Ellis thinks of American politics and the War on Terror.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

BATMAN #644

Wow.

Although the verbosity of the internal monologue, the inability to keep from giggling through what are supposed to be dangerous situations, and the thick coating of Super Friends/live-action Batman campiness are all redolent of Willingham's work on Robin, which was deemed unreadable long ago, this so far outstrips it as to require a different, grander vocabulary of invective and abuse. And I say this as someone who doesn't even like Leslie Thompkins. Or Stephanie Brown for that matter.

This was the kind of distended, distorted story that... if someone who hated Batman in particular or comic books in general were to come up with a prospective story, a hyperbole-laden theoretical issue that encapsulated everything that was wrong with Batman or comics, this would be it. It had all of the weaknesses of a serialized story and none of the strengths. It had a nominal hero whose only utterances were pompous speechifyings that needed to be delivered with clenched fists on hips and boots planted three feet apart. It was chock full of impossibilities and plot twists that are only laughable if you have absolutely nothing vested in the principles of good storytelling.

This is why I miss Jon Lewis and his Amish alien symbiote twin wrestlers over in Robin. And why I keep waiting for things to fall apart in Day of Vengeance. And why I suspect Willingham has an evil twin who writes these stories because there can't possibly be a way that the same brain that puts together the superb and complex Fables can also be responsible for this tripe.

The actual point of the story is almost secondary: Leslie, whose compassion and reluctant complicity in Bruce Wayne's world was transubstantiated during Batman: War Games into a PETA-esque radicalized pacifism that valued narrow beliefs over common sense, is revealed to have violated the Hippocratic Oath on the most fundamental level and willfully murdered Stephanie Brown by withholding treatment. Leslie has pulled a Jean Loring -- gone psychotic, back later. I half expect her to come back in another book as an archvillain so she can be the one to do in Batman during Infinite Crisis.

Sadly, this is becoming less outrageous than it should be. The Path to Infinite Crisis is turning into the comics equivalent of the Trail of Tears or the Bataan Death March -- strewn with the corpses of once-noble warriors. Fie on the perpetrators.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

THE RABBI'S CAT

The Rabbi's Cat is a graphic novel collecting three of Joann Sfar's previously published stories featuring, well, a rabbi's cat. It's a meditation on faith, family, and the art of truthtelling. And, for the most part, it is fantastic.

The rabbi and his cat live in 1930's Algeria, which was still under French dominion and had a different religious and ethnic demographic than it does today. While many of the themes are independent of confession, religion is the underpinning of this story, the core around which everything else revolves, and your personal feelings on faith, whatever flavor it is, will color how you read the stories. Especially the last chapter, "Exodus".

The rabbi's cat (who does not get named) is a wondrous creature. Not because he can speak, but because he is so intellectually complicated in a fashion that never turns him from a feline into a person in cat form. The cat is alternately stubborn, loyal, jealous, petty, and generous. He is intelligent without always being wise and sometimes he is wise enough to rue his intelligence. What else can you expect from a cat that starts to speak after eating the rabbi's annoying parakeet, but his first words are lies about eating the parakeet?

The first chapter, "The Bar Mitzvah" is probably my favorite. It is where the cat begins to speak, but it is also where the cat begins to learn to see beyond himself. That self-absorption is both material -- like all cats, he wants what he wants when he wants it -- and spiritual. The cat wants a bar mitzvah so he can learn kabbalah and also be trusted to be alone with the rabbi's beautiful daughter Zlabya, but he does not want to have to expend any energy. He wants knowledge without either understanding or commitment. What results is a battle of wills between the cat (the secular skeptic) and the rabbi (the believer) and both emerge the wiser.

The second chapter, "Malka of the Lions", still deals with faith, but more on culture and family. There is the resentment of the French overlords, the influence of ancient stories, the easy ecumenicism of differing believers, and the conflict between different Jewish traditions. There is also the binding and loosing of family ties and it flows together wonderfully. The cat is more witness than actor, but is still a player in the story.

The third chapter, "Exodus", lost me a little. The easy back-and-forth conversation between secularism and faith is totally disrupted and the relaxed tone of a storyteller is gone. Suddenly, everyone is feckless and faithless. Sfar is going for a play on culture shock -- this chapter takes place in Paris -- and ends up with something quite mean and sad to read. Everyone is lost -- morally, spiritually, geographically, emotionally. There is no moral compass and no life preservers in sight. Even the cat, who is usually quite refreshingly honest, is very confused. The end does not bring hope, but instead a sort of weak soldiering on where most everyone goes back to doing what they were doing because they can't untrack to pursue other options. I found this last chapter a disappointment after the delight of the first two.

Sfar's art is not comic book art. (Go here to look around; this is the book's minisite). It is European in style and composition and is striking and warm without necessarily being pretty.

The book on the whole is quite lovely and highly recommended whatever the status of your beliefs (or lack thereof).

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

BATMAN: JOURNEY INTO KNIGHT #1

I have nothing interesting to say, so I will try to say nothing interestingly:

Awkward dialogue
Displeasing Tan Eng Huat art
Did not finish book

Did not like premise
the cartoon meets the movie
without a cute Bruce

Too many Batbooks
Interest drops like dead leaves
will Crisis bring life?

(with apologies to Scipio and to A, who did it first and better)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Shrew does Admin


1) Yes, I know Buzzscope's on the fritz. It's temporary. (Sadly, it means some reviews of books I'm most excited about are currently inaccessible.)

2) Because of the recent avalanche of spam comments, I've enabled Blogger's word verification for comments. The alternative is to require Blogger registration or eliminate comments altogether and while I may not always respond to comments, I do read and enjoy them.

All this means is that when you comment, before you hit "publish" you have to copy down the nonsensical stream of characters (i.e., the "word") in the provided box. It's an annoyance, but a minor one compared to logging in and deleting the spam that comes with every new post.

(Also a reminder: if you don't have a Blogger account, choose the "Other" option and give yourself a nick.)

HIP FLASK: MYSTERY CITY #1

I've had nearly a week to come up with something to say about this and haven't, so here are some unrefined thoughts because I honestly don't know what to think.

First reaction: Cross Rising Stars with The Secret of NIMH and toss it into a vaguely noirish future.

Anthropomorphic creatures, the survivors of mad scientist's experiments, are regular and not-so-regular citizens in the twenty-third century Los Angeles that is our setting. Some are cops, some are criminals, and most are characters straight out of central casting or at least the latest ad for cigarettes. Throw in a crime family war, some xenophobia, and some achingly punful references and you've got Hip Flask: Mystery City.

This isn't the first Hip Flask book, so I'm not quite sure what is simply underdeveloped and what was explained in a previous book. That Hip and his brethren are the results of the experiments performed by Dr. Nikken is obvious. Who and what the 'Elephantmen' are and where they stand in society... not so clear. I went to the website and got some more story, which explained things a bit but not quite to my satisfaction. If the 'Elephantmen' are looked askance by society and are supposed to be surviving by their wits alone, why do they get to hold government jobs and run businesses and generally do their own thing? And why are they all such babe magnets? Obadiah Horn (rhino) is married to a gorgeous woman and Hip gets a taxi cab ride from a driver with a hippo fetish so strong she got a vanity license plate. (I tried not to think too much about the semi-demi-bestiality angle.) Many unanswered questions remain.

The art... There's a very cold feel to the art. Ladronn's scenery is occasionally exquisite, but his people (and animal-people) feel a bit plastic. It's like CGI -- beautiful, but artificial in a way that's more visceral than, say, giving Nightwing blue highlights to make his hair black.

Would I be willing to try another issue? Maybe. I thought the story a little thin and catching up with this universe may require more effort than I am ultimately willing to put in.




Monday, August 22, 2005

MANHUNTER #13

... and the OMAC virus continues to spread at a rate to which avian flu can only aspire.

This was a fast-paced issue with two threads working toward each other, great snark and action... that was nonetheless confounding and frustrating and readable only through the sheer talent of Marc Andreyko.

Comic book geeks and those who aspire to that station were undoubtedly pleased with the lengthy lesson in the Manhunter legacy, the second one of the arc. (If they're not still fuming at the culling of the Manhunters or the bits of retconning done.) But while it was interesting from the historical perspective, I'm not quite sure what it has to do with either the story or the title as a whole.

I understand the desire to tighten the threads between the various Manhunters in the DCU, especially during a time in the DCU's history where the driving theme seems to be "The Past Will Come Back to Bite You In the Ass". And the Manhunters do need some unknotting, especially if Geoff Johns is going to be using the space version over in Green Lantern. But all of this expository info-dumping, even handled as well as it has been (and it has been handled well), seems an odd choice of priority when there is so much more about Kate that we do not know. I keep thinking back to how James Robinson handled the Starman legacy when he started his series with Jack Knight, eventually tying in all of the various bearers of the title so that there was a continuity where once there had been none but always returning to Jack and developing him first and foremost.

Andreyko feels like he's cramming too much in by comparison to Robinson's book, spending a lot of time telling readers things that Kate doesn't know and doesn't seem to need to know to perform as a Manhunter. Mark Shaw's history is certainly relevant, but unless it's going to tie into Infinite Crisis, dragging Kirk Paul's clones and the rest of it into things only muddies the water.

As for the rest of the story, it was pretty entertaining all considering. Dylan's superhuman ability to be embarrassed by women kicks in again, but, as usual, he perseveres through his latest humiliation with a combination of aplomb and cheekiness. He and Cameron Chase work the geek angle to try to save Kate and in the process save this issue from turning into yet another advertisement for Infinite Crisis and OMAC Project. Well, them and the lady-of-a-certain-age who thinks her temporary transformation into an OMAC was a residual hot flash.

Showing up in every book, no matter how irrelevant -- and I don't think you can get more irrelevant than Batgirl #66 -- the OMACs have become so omnipresent that their appearance is about as unexpected as a roach in a Manhattan apartment. And about as welcome. Hell, they're even showing in Captain America.

Chase and Dylan stumble across the OMAC files in the DEO's computer and then Kate's standoff with the unstable Mark Shaw gets interrupted by an OMAC, an appearance kept from the purely farcical by the thing's seeming inability to distinguish which one of the two is actually Shaw -- the lunatic running around dressed as Dumas or the one in the Manhunter outfit carrying Shaw's staff.

Despite the above griping, it wasn't a terrible issue. Penciler-du-mois Brad Walker's art looked good in the flashback panels, but I was unimpressed with the present-day panels. This title has been spoiled with the art, starting out with Jesus Saiz and then getting fill-in art from Javi Pina (and if the rumor of Stephen Sadowski joining the title is true...) and Walker's more traditional, softer lines end up softening the story a bit too much by taking away too much of the grit and shadow.

Next month brings the end of the arc as well as more Infinite Crisis tie-in. I hope more of the former than the latter, but with DC just now getting around to soliciting the first TPB of this title for November, we can imagine where the priorities rank.

LEX LUTHOR: MAN OF STEEL #5

I was a bit mixed on this final issue -- some earlier threads seemed dropped, some events rather random -- until I reread the first issue, when it all snapped into place with an audible click. Lex Luthor knew what he was doing and so did Brian Azzarello; they were both being very sly.

I've said it before and I'll say it once more: if you skipped this mini-series because you weren't impressed with Azzarello's previous adventures in the DCU, you owe it to yourself to pick up the trade once it is solicited. At the very least for Lee Bermejo's gorgeous, striking art, but also for one of the most subtle and nuanced bad-guy stories in recent memory. What Azzarello missed the target on in Batman and didn't quite get a grip on in Superman, he absolutely nailed here.



Sunday, August 21, 2005

SMALL GODS #10

This issue, the start of the two-part Nightingale arc, is a good jumping-on point for folks who have not yet tried this nifty little series from Jason Rand and Juan Ferreyra.

Small Gods is a title that runs in discrete arcs -- everything takes place in the same Denver in the same universe, but while characters can overlap, each storyline runs on its own steam with its own leads. (Arcs thus far: Killing Grin, collected in trade, and Dead Man's Hand, which ran #5-9 and has not been solicited as a collection yet.) You don't need to have read either Killing Grin or Dead Man's Hand to completely understand this issue, but if you have read them, then you'll perhaps feel a little more comfortable with what folks can do and how they react.


REX LIBRIS #1

It is with great disappointment that I say that this book was a great disappointment.

The premise of Rex Libris should have been fun -- a librarian who will go to all ends of the galaxy to retrieve overdue books and can use the completely random knowledge a reference librarian picks up to save books and maybe the universe. James Turner picked some clever reference points in the history of libraries, even if he's a bit hazy on the different flavors of librarians, and the concept is ripe for exploitation. Heck, if Noah Wyle can be a librarian adventurer in the style of Indiana Jones, then why can't Rex Libris be one in the style of Buck Rogers or Hal Jordan?

It should have been fun, but it wasn't.

Rex Libris is too clunky to be witty, too dorky to claim nerd coolness, and not sharp enough to work as satire. It fails as a send-up of any genre, despite the wholesale appropriation of motifs. The drubbing this book takes from the Exposition Fairy is so complete that it would have beat Tyson-Douglas on a stopwatch. Even the humorous references are explained to the point of logorrhea. It was a struggle to finish the book, frankly, and that was after I quickly gave up on the running 'dialogue' on the bottom of the pages. The dialogue is far too copious and the story far too plodding to accomplish much in the way of entertainment.

The art is no great shakes, either. Turner's panels have a computer-generated feel (like they were drown with a LOGO turtle, not like they were CGI) and are achingly static and two-dimensional. Most of the smaller panels are crowded by the word balloons, anyway.

More than a comic book, this felt like a naughty version of a propaganda piece the public library puts out to give to kids -- stiff, force-feeding historical facts, weak humor, and contrived.