Sunday, February 27, 2005

Y - THE LAST MAN #31

Road trip!

Ring of Truth ends with just as many questions as it began with, albeit different questions. We know why Yorick survived the plague, but now whether he's permanently immune. (Go see Dr. Scott's parsing of that revelation over at Polite Dissent.) We know a little more about 355's and Dr. Mann's histories, but but they've both gone and changed a bit. Hero's a little less crazy, but is she any more trustworthy? And who is Toyota working for and is it any more than an educated guess that had them contracting her to chase down Ampersand?

As ever, Brian Vaughan does a great job showing how time passes in other ways than just on a calendar. Choices are made that would have been made differently and responsibilities taken that would not be accepted back when this adventure began, but the transformations have been organic in that we've seen the causes as they've occured.

Pia Guerra's art is, as ever, lovely.

The trade for this arc has been solicited for June 2005. Which is your cue to go bother your LCS or add it to your Amazon list.

SLEEPER SEASON TWO #9

For one and two-thirds series, it hasn't really mattered if you've read Point Blank, the prequel to Sleeper. At least not beyond the fact that it's a fabulous story and a better read than 90% of the stuff you're currently scarfing down. But at the three-quarter mark, it suddenly matters. Because Holden Carver tells you the plot twist of PB right at the get-go.

So, if you haven't read Point Blank and you're reading this before you've read the issue... Stop. Stop now. Go pick up the trade, either from Amazon, Overstock.com, DeepDiscount.com, or your preferred online or local shop. Read that, then come back to this issue. Or, if you're waiting for the trade on this title -- which is okay, as Ed Brubaker fully admits he's writing this series for the trade, not as a monthly serial -- then make sure you read that before you pick up the second Season Two book. And if you've read the issue already... go read PB now anyway. Because it's that good and the Shrew is always right about things like this.

As for this issue's story... Gretchen is right. She did keep reminding Holden that she wasn't trustworthy. But while she tells Tao that Holden was thinking with his little head and not his big one, she (and we) both know that that's not the case. It was another organ that gets bigger and fills with blood -- the heart. And considering how ill Miss Misery has gotten this series, you sort of have to wonder which man she is betraying. Either way, though, Holden's exhibiting the sort of hubris that's gonna get him into trouble -- what makes him so sure that this time is going to be the case where he out-thinks Tao?

As much as I like Brubaker's work on Captain America, this title is perhaps the strongest evidence for why I can't help but mourn his exclusive contract with Marvel.

POWERS #9

The second book of the week where fanboys get in trouble. That Bendis chose message boards as the means is hardly surprising all considering...

Mistaken identity on both sides of the Blackguard killings... or not. Pilgrim and Walker get close-but-not-exact in their pursuit of the Joke's killer and, since murder investigations are neither horseshoes nor hand-grenades, it's not good enough and when trouble arises, Walker makes a rather surprising call for back-up.

The actual policework is secondary to the story, however. Walker and Pilgrim are both keeping powers-related secrets -- Christian that Calista is the new Retro Girl and Deena's "contracting" of powers (that's the verb the front-matter uses) -- and the real plot is how those secrets, and the fact that the partners are keeping them from each other, are going to explode. It's not like they're not already running into secret-related trouble: together they've already been submarined in their investigation by uniformed policemen angry at their betrayal of the Blue Wall of Silence and individually they're running in to trouble with ex-lovers and it's only a matter of time before all the poop hits the fan. Fun stuff, although I always wonder if, despite the use of cliffhangers, this series is not better read in trade.

The first Marvel trade paperback of Powers has been solicited for April 2005.

FANTASTIC FOUR #523

Right. Because Waid wasn't about to leave off with the wacky for too long.

I'm not sure what to make of this penultimate chapter of the story. On the one hand, sure, show Galen around to let him see as much of what he would destroy -- and his reactions are sensible and logical considering who he is and was. On the other hand...

I have an instinctive reaction against any situation where the unstoppable menace is thwarted by the abstract notion of Plucky Human Resolve rather than by some concrete action. It's sort of a spiritual 'Don't hate me because I'm beautiful' and it smacks of a cop-out. I'd rather have the means of destruction short-circuit because of faulty wiring. That said, I've liked this arc thus far -- Johnny the Herald was a revelation, quite literally, and the power swap (and the way it happened) was well-played.

Waid has been exploring each member's strengths and limits and thus re-defining the structure within the group. Sue has emerged a stronger hero, Johnny a stronger person, Ben a far richer character beyond the traditional self-esteem issue, and Reed has come away as more fallible -- and better because of it. Doom setting Reed up by challenging his belief in the magic/science dichotomy remains my favorite part of this direction.

Not especially relevant: the FF international trailer (different from the US one because there's dialogue; the Thing's voice is terrible.)

SEVEN SOLDIERS #0

I will be up front and admit that I had to reread this to make any sense and the parts that didn't confuse the heck out of me felt a little derivative (a little Sleeper, a little Starman, a little Outlaw Nation, etc.) even as the story as a whole was not, but I actually kinda liked it. Grant Morrison's obviously having a lot of fun, some of it at the original Seven Soldier's expense.

We start off with the rounding up of a pack of fourth-rate hero-types to be led by one old gem taking on a giant spider... or do we? There's a fair bit of Weapon X/X-Files stuff going on, plus an apparent alien invasion, some cosmic entities... and none of the four characters who start off the round of sub-series dedicated to them: Guardian, Zatanna, Klarion the Witch Boy, and the Shining Knight. But there are lots of soldiers on mosquitos. You have to wonder about red herrings when the ones trying to save the universe end up with the fanboy who bought TNT and Dyna-Mite's rings on eBay and, really, Greg Saunders can do better.

This is a very ambitious project -- two bookend issues on either side of a whack of sub-series featuring characters mostly too obscure for the casual reader to have much vested in them, sort of a grander version of the James Robinson-speared project that kicked off the return of the JSA back in 1999 -- and Morrison has been known to get distracted in the middle of complicated extended storylines. On the other hand, there is going to be ample chance to appreciate J.H. Williams's lovely pencils.

For those who'd like a little background on the original Seven Soldiers of Victory: DC Cosmic Teams provides.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

FLASH #219 AND FLASH #½

Tackling these both together...

FLASH #219... One of the best arcs of Geoff Johns's run on this title (in terms of month-to-month tension) was Blitz (197-200), the storyline that produced the newest Reverse Flash. Hunter Zolomon was Wally West's friend and comrade in the crime-fighting business as Keystone's Rogue profiler, but things changed after Wally refused to use the Cosmic Treadmill to go back in time to undo the accident that paralyzed Hunter. Attempting to use the Treadmill on his own, Hunter succeeded but at a terrible price -- he ended up turning himself into the new Reverse Flash, Dr. Zoom, an insane speedster. Not a Rogue per se, Hunter still believed himself to be working in Wally's best interests and, as any teacher should, he pushed his pupil. When the two men had argued the ethics of using the Cosmic Treadmill, Hunter had accused Wally of never having been pushed far enough. Now the Reverse Flash, Hunter gave Wally that lesson -- he kidnapped the pregnant Linda and causes a miscarriage of their twins. Wally has been reacting to that ever since.

At the end of Blitz, Zolomon was captured and, for all intents and purposes, held prisoner by the Speed Force even as his body was stored in Keystone. That changed in the last issue with Cheetah springing Zoom, somehow waking him up.

This month, we find out why. The villainess wants Zoom to lend her speed, but when he can't she agrees to settle for his training -- the same way he still intends to train Wally. While the rest of the world no longer knows who The Flash is (courtesy of the Ignition arc), Zoom is no longer a proper part of this world and has not had that memory taken away. And thus sets up a far more personal threat to Wally than the upcoming Rogue War. I like Hunter Zolomon as a menace -- he's right, he's not a villian per se, but instead a ruthless instructor determined to force Wally to become the sort of hero Wally never wants to be -- just like Batman. It's a plotline that is perfect when used occasionally, letting Wally and the readers recover and get comfortable after the last encounter before popping back up out of the woodwork. Too much and it becomes overkill -- like the Joker.

Wonder Woman is a guest star in this issue, the first part of a crossover, and I can only guess that this is going to be part of the countdown to Countdown (with Wonder Woman's Rucka and Johns as two of the three brains behind the event) because, really, considering how Johns has treated Diana in all of her appearances in his books? I can't imagine this being a voluntary association. Johns (Teen Titans, JSA) has been mean to the JLA in general and Diana most of all. Unsurprisingly, Wally gets snarky with Diana while under the lasso's influence -- gee, Geoff, avatar much? -- but what did make me blink was the sudden shift to toon!Wally while working with Diana against Giganta. Wally's more of an internal monologist and not so much with the snappy patter (Joe Kelly played that up a bit during his JLA run). No biggie.

Lest they be forgotten, the Rogues are also hard at work and Johns obviously wishes that the half an issue focusing on Diana was instead spent on them, because he wrote the half-issue....


FLASH #½... Clever Rogue usage here while also continuing the set-up of the new Captain Boomerang (whose parentage is still under investigation). The new Trickster, basically a minor annoyance, is around here mostly to give Wally hints that the Rogues on both sides of the law are an especially unstable group right now. Between the restlessness of the reformed Rogues and the organizing going around over the cheerfully unreformed ones and the new Captain Boomerang and, under and around and on top of it all, the Top's revelations... Rogue War might actually be some fun. The continued presence of Hunter Zolomon, torturing Linda Park-West, however, is intriguing in entirely different ways.

Of course, I can't ever really complain about an issue featuring the only view of the Stanley Cup I'm going to get this year. (With the NHL out of service, the Rogues have had Lord Stanley's fruitbowl for the last while. Johns, a hockey fan, can never get too far on to my pooplist because of his gratuitous use of my favorite sport.)

WONDER WOMAN #213

Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman is a marvelously complex character. Rucka tends toward protagonists who are fundamentally good but profoundly flawed -- Tara Chace, Carrie Stetko, Brigid Logan, Elektra Natchios, Helena Bertinelli, Renee Montoya, etc. -- and Diana of Themyscira is really no different, albeit her virtues and flaws are of a different scale.

Diana is a proud and skilled warrior, a defender of the weak, a leader of women (and men, when they get over it), eager -- overeager -- to sacrifice herself for others, and bound by a strict code of ethics. And Rucka is subtly turning these qualities from virtue to flaw -- Diana is simply too proud to play politics, but in a world where both humanity and godfolk subsist on it, she is ultimately a very well-armed idealist in a universe full of pragmatists.

Diana has the intelligence to be cunning in battles that are not physical, but she usually doesn't apply her wisdom in that way -- backroom dealings and compromises with the lesser moral ground don't interest her, not when she is sure she can win decisive victory in a more literal sort of fight. And she is sure of her ability to win, just as she is absolutely convinced of the rightness of her cause and the eventual realization of others that she is correct. It's why she wrote her book and why the tension between her and Veronica Cale is what it is and why it isn't going away cleanly. It's also why she would rather damn herself (and possibly everything she cares about) rather than accept less than what she wants out of Athena when the new lord of Olympus would give her a boon.

Athena warns Diana of her folly and we, the reader, see the many avenues that could lead to regret. Throw in the fact that Rucka is one of the Countdown writers and Diana is part of that Event... her blindness may be more than literal now, but it may also soon be the least of her trouble.

Next month: crossover with The Flash, the first part of which is out this week over in Wallyworld.

NIGHTWING #104

Once more (with feeling) to celebrate the new site. And besides, I let you off easy last issue:

My problem with this story arc can be boiled down to my paraphrasing a pal: "I got as far as 'Kory Who?' and then went blind." As I've been saying from the first issue of this retcon, this isn't the DCU's Dick Grayson. It's the Dini/Timm version and it exists only within the context of Batman's Gotham -- sure, they can put in a panel of Donna with Terra and Gar in the background or have him visit Metropolis, but this isn't a Dick truly touched by the world outside of Gotham City.

While it is ridiculous to assume that the Marv Wolfman/George Perez version of Dick Grayson, the one they had to fight to mature past perpetual boyhood, could stand as the definitive one forever -- certainly not in a universe where Bruce Wayne can never age -- it is similarly ridiculous to replace a wonderfully organic (and still functional) history with an inferior one simply because the option was available. "It was there" works for mountain climbing, not here. We are halfway through this Nightwing: Year One story and I have yet to see a stronger reason for its existence than "Chuck Dixon was bored and Devin Grayson was busy".

Think I'm being unnecessarily fangirlish? I'm not the only one who isn't ready to throw in the Wolfman/Perez history. By presenting a history that is nothing more than a retroactive backstory for his own run on Nightwing, Dixon is, unsurprisingly, working at cross-purposes with the rest of the DCU. While Geoff Johns, Judd Winick, Brad Meltzer and others are using Koriand'r's history with Dick (in Teen Titans, Outsiders, and Identity Crisis respectively), Dixon is obliterating it. Kory is reduced to the status of glorified fling in this issue, someone not important enough to Dick that he can't try to put the moves on Barbara Gordon in an unsubtle bit of sledgehammer foreshadowing for the Dick/Babs 'shippers. Forget that Kory was arguably the most important influence in Dick's life as he transitioned from Robin to Nightwing -- Dixon assures us that she barely registers to Our Hero by having it be Babs who keeps the future Twu Wuv romance on ice. The world outside of Gotham is irrelevant here -- just as it is in the animated series.

Now, as for the actual events of the issue... I'm not quite sure what Dick hoped to accomplish by his little tour of Gotham. I know the stated premise, but his introducing himself around with the "Hi, I'm Robin in different clothes" spiel is perhaps not how I'd go about making an independent stand and getting out from under Batman's shadow. Breaking in to Arkham, blindsiding Jim Gordon... whatever. It's been par for the course for this very shallow, action-junkie Dick -- shoot first, think later -- and I suppose nothing else should be expected. It certainly sets up the later Dixon routine of Nightwing being a flexible, affable idiot and Oracle doing all of his thinking for him. And we're all about the presaging here.

Next issue, Jason and Dick meet. Woo.

Friday, February 25, 2005

BATGIRL #61

I'm trying to nail down the precise source of my lack of enthusiasm for this issue. There wasn't anything particularly bad about it -- Andersen Gabrych is still in set-up mode and could have done a better job wrestling with the Exposition Fairy, especially with regard to the Coffee Shop Chick, but really didn't get himself bogged down and generally stuck to what he set up last month. Ale Garza (who did the art, not the Mhan credited on the cover) did his usual fun job even if he doesn't believe that young women ever have shirt bottoms that meet pants tops. So why am I not excited? A perfectly acceptable issue, but I wanted more.

Having established Cass's new world order last issue, we get on to something approaching plot. Cass begins her day in her new digs, again watched by the Mysterious Boy from Across the Street and again interacting with the Coffee Shop Chick (failing to convince CSC that she's not a call girl) and again getting a phone call by the ever-helpful stoolie Marquis about Penguin's shipment. I still think it's all a little too quick and convenient, but there's a time constraint to get the story moving forward again, so there's only so much I can gripe.

Now, on the face of things, there's nothing wrong with a percentage of Gotham's criminal element relocating to Bludhaven -- Black Mask is certainly in charge at home, plus the police sensitivity, plus, well, there are plenty of reasons. Someone like the Penguin is a natural for such a move -- his sort of crime can be carried out in any big port city where he can move goods in and out. But why the Brotherhood of Evil is stopping by.... We'll see, I suppose.

In the resulting throwdown, Gabrych does a pretty good job of establishing Cass's strengths and limits, not to mention his penciler Garza's, whose fluid style is both hampered and aided by his heroine fighting a liquidy shapeshifter. Cass is a seasoned pro when she sets Gemini on fire to see where she's vulnerable, but she's no match for three fifths of the Brotherhood of Evil and quickly gets her clock cleaned. (I'm not sure I buy the idea that Cass can't 'read' Mallah because he's not human -- he's got a human enough brain and gorilla bodies are about as close to ours as the animal kingdom is going to get -- but that's beside the point.)

As for what happens next... I understand that Cass has a certain reaction to Stephanie Brown because Steph was the one person she interacted with voluntarily and not as part of her Bat-duties. But Gabrych really has to be careful about not retconning that relationship into an actual friendship -- because it wasn't. Steph as representation of other ideals, sure. And in the context of the issue, it's probably better than having an imaginary Batman yelling at her to wake up and swim.

But tell me I wasn't the only one who had a quick panicked moment where I muttered "please, no. Stephanie Brown is not the next Spectre".

OUTSIDERS #21

As mentioned last issue, anyone who couldn't guess that Batman was behind the Outsiders frankly deserves to be a fan of Judd Winick's recent work. [No, the moratorium on Winick Griping does not extend to either Outsiders or Green Arrow.] Bruce Wayne's involvement seemed imminent the minute Roy started talking about a corporate sponsor -- that, or it was going to be one of those irony moments with LexCorp or some other villain's cash being behind Optitron. But why go for irony when you can settle in to the same old groove?

I was in a mellow mood to start reading this issue -- Winick did well in Batman this week, so maybe the inevitable Bruce-Dick confrontation would work... but it was not to be. These aren't those men.

Winick has written a rather sullen and spiteful Nightwing in Outsiders thus far, an embittered man consciously deciding to not demonstrate his ample leadership skills and content to emulate his mentor for the interpersonal skills despite having railed against that behavior for most of his adult life. Presumably it's part of the Outsiders' mandate to be a team and not a family, but all Winick has used Dick for is as an example of What Not to Do -- he's careless with teammates' lives in the field and his aloofness out of action only exacerbates their distrust. Neither Kory nor Roy have had much impact on him -- with the notable exception of Roy's recovery issue -- and I have to wonder if readers who aren't coming from a history of seeing a much more accessible Dick Grayson will be much interested in the sudden humanization in this issue.

All of the questions Dick asks Bruce are eminently reasonable -- both in general and in the specifics of the Dick-and-Bruce show. Sure, Dick has only himself to blame for expecting Bruce to open up to him, but this -- Bruce basically buying a new superhero team for Dick to lead in the wake of the dissolution of the Titans after the deaths of Donna Troy and Lilith Jupiter -- is a bit more of a transgression than the usual sort of Bat-cipherhood. This is a master mind-@$#% by Bruce and Dick explodes in righteous indignation at his mentor and it would have been a fantastic battle royale in the finest Devin-Grayson-during-Gotham-Knights style of Bat-psychoanalysis.... If Winick hadn't dropped the ball completely on the Batman end.

Yes, Bruce is irascible and unreasonable and opaque and enjoys being perverse. And I buy a Bruce rattled by recent events -- the deaths of Jack Drake and Stephanie Brown, the collapse of Gotham, etc. -- and still unwilling to let Dick see his pain, let alone help him. Dick is his son and his subordinate more than he is Bruce's friend. But there's Bat-opaque and there's.... this sort of opaque, which is muddy and unclear in its purpose and seems instead to just say "you all know Batman is irascible and unreasonable and opaque and enjoys being perverse, right?" without giving a good wherefore. Bruce sounds childish here, like a teenager having a melodramatic fit, and I really hope that that wasn't Winick's aim because it's an awful omen for Batman. 'I'm a bad man and you shouldn't trust me (love me, like me, have faith in me)' is so 16-year-old drama queen and it's probably too much to hope that it's the last we ever see of it from Winick.

As for the rest of the issue... Winick's mad-on for Roy Harper continues -- the competent father/friend/CBI-Checkmate Agent/superhero is obviously Earth I to Winick's Earth II version -- and I'm still boggling at how Arsenal could not realize that it wasn't Batman he was talking to all this time, especially when he's known Batman as Bruce Wayne for at least a decade. That it wasn't, that it was in fact Deathstroke... If Slade Wilson hadn't become the Wolverine of the DCU, showing up in every. single. book as the Villain to Fight, if he wasn't already haunting the Teen Titans as 'revenge' for Jericho's fate... maybe. But not now, when he's getting more action than a tuppence floozy and most of it being just as cheap.

I suppose I should just be happy that there was no more on-panel tentacle porn, right?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

BATMAN #637

Greater minds than mine will have to explain how Judd Winick can write a credible Nightwing in Batman and yet... create such an unappealing, foreign (and I mean "who-is-that-dude stranger", not "exotic") version over in Outsiders. Why is he channeling Joe Kelly here -- go read JLA: Obsidian Age if you doubt that these are Kelly's Bruce and Dick -- and going for a sort of Worst of Devin Grayson and Jay Faerber in Titans approach over in Outsiders?

I have spent the last several months griping, groaning, and lamenting Winick's authorial choices in Outsiders, Green Arrow, and pretty much everything from the last few issues of Green Lantern on. His distortion of narrative and plot to achieve witty repartee, his glaring inability to create viable villains and foils, and his gravest sin: the subjugation of the superhero action serial genre to better service his social activist needs -- a fundamentally selfish act dressed in the raiment of selflessness. Winick pats himself on the back as readers leave Green Arrow and Outsiders in droves.

There has been nothing in the past few years of gay bashing, child endangerment, prostitution, and HIV storylines to merit anyone plunking down the $2.25 for a Winick-written Batman for any reason other than perverse pleasure and a masochistic streak.... Except for the fact that, so far, Winick's Batman run has been eminently readable.

Oh, it's still early and Winick's going to be here for a while and I give him six months before we're exploring the depths of some hot-button issue -- will Stephanie Brown's baby be illegally adopted? Is Dana Drake being abused by orderlies in her institution? Will Alfred be felled by some disease with underfunded research? Will Pamela Anderson guest star in an arc about the dangers of saline-based breast enhancements? -- but for the time being, this is fun. And I haven't been able to say that about anything Winick has written since Green Lantern #153.

By either circumstance or design, on this title Winick is being given support for his biggest weaknesses. He is speaking through Dick Grayson, ever chatty and his most suitable narrator since Kyle Rayner, and that keeps him from needing to work too hard to get his banter in. Batman has enough villains that Winick doesn't need to either create any new ones or dust off and adapt older ones. And, in the wake of the execrable War Games, Winick simply has too much to do to get Gotham set up again that even he can't find the time and space to indulge his personal propaganda urges.

The result is entertaining -- Black Mask is a businessman's crime lord, unflappable and professional, as both he and Batman establish themselves in this new world order. By using Nightwing, Winick can leave both Batman and Black Mask opaque and that leaves readers wondering and wanting more.

I just wish I had faith in this continuing. But fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice....

LEGION OF SUPER HEROES #3

"I like being naked"... and we like it too, Jan.

Another fantastic issue, this one even better for being not so much about kids versus grown-ups. Instead, it's about the gang's intrasquad relations -- both professional and personal and where the two blur.

Lu (Triplicate Girl) gets her origin story told over dates with Jan (Element Lad) and Dirk (Sun Boy) while her third self runs wild with Jo (Ultra Boy). While having a good time, Lu is in fact testing her teammates at Cosmic Boy's suggestion to see where their motivations lie -- for who else better than the hive of one to determine the group mind?

As someone whom I tend to remember as bland and uninspiring as one of the founding troika, Cos is showing some spunk and spike as the Legion's head -- his interactions with Brainy alternately crackle with tension and inspire laughter and he's showing command and purpose instead of Mark Waid telling us that everyone respects him and expecting the reader to believe him. Brainy talks of zookeeping, but it is Cos who is a remarkably effective head of the asylum. All the more so because he's doing it behind the scenes -- neither Brainy nor Jan nor Dirk nor Jo realize how sharp Rokk is.

As can be expected, Waid is tweaking backstories here -- most notably that in prior incarnations, Carggites only ever had three bodies (no unlimited division) and it was Jan who was the sole survivor of a destroyed world and not Lu. The change works as far as Triplicate Girl -- Lu has Pre-Boot Jan's sensitivity to the soul of the team and the idea of Lu's other selves rejecting the ones who became 'alien' is a good one. Where this leaves Jan, I hope we find out soon.

The comic relief in this issue, as for the entire series, has been top-notch. The 'rite of vegetation' (the ancient custom of presenting flowers on a date) and other mating tips as gleaned from that most useful of sources -- Batman comics -- and the other SCA-for-the-31st-century games that are played are great fun, as is rakish Jo's intense date with Lu, Gim (Colossal Boy Micro Lad) and Ayla's (Light Lass) bickering, and Lyle's (Invisible Lad) hiding from the Science Police exactly like the truant child he is. I feel a little bad for how Cham is coming out in this new series -- I fell in love with Reep's quiet strength and intelligence back in the Levitz-written books and it's a little sad for me to see him as the punchline to so many jokes.

The Legion is arguably DC's most daunting team to get into -- unlike the also-confusing JSA, the Legion exists a millennium past the rest of the DCU and has been rebooted more times than a computer running Win95, which means they've had more series names than the Teen Titans. The JLA may get bloated, but the Legion is aptly named -- there are many, many members. All of this adds up to an accessibility problem... solved by this latest reboot. We're all starting new here, so take the time, pick up the two back-issues, and enjoy the best team book in DC Comics' current arsenal.

Monday, February 21, 2005

The Shrew's To-Do list for 23 February 2005

BATGIRL #61
BATMAN #637
FLASH #219
FLASH 0.5
LEGION OF SUPER HEROES #3
NIGHTWING #104
OUTSIDERS #21
SEVEN SOLDIERS #0
WONDER WOMAN #213

HELLBLAZER #205
SLEEPER: SEASON TWO #9
Y - THE LAST MAN #31

BURGLAR BILL #2
SMALL GODS #7

FANTASTIC FOUR #523
POWERS #9
ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE #5

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

QUEEN & COUNTRY: DECLASSIFIED VOL 2 #1

This first issue will read very differently to those who are up-to-date and have read A Gentleman's Game (the Q&C novel), those who are reading the series and haven't gotten to the novel, and those who just picked this up because it sounded like something interesting.

The Declassified miniseries are single-character focus flashback stories, quasi-origin tales that depict defining moments for our cast and crew over at MI-6. The first Declassified centered on Paul Crocker, whom series heroine Tara Chace knows as her irascible boss but who was once in her shoes. This second miniseries focuses on Tom Wallace, the recently retired Section Chief.

Tom, Tara's closest working partner and friend, retired from active duty in Q&C #26 and played an important role in A Gentleman's Game, which takes place after the events of Q&C 28. Within the main series, we meet Tom as we met Paul -- veteran spooks who are several stages past cynical and whose idealism has long ago hardened into something more useful. Tom drinks heavily, smokes even more heavily, and is both worldly and world-weary and it's no wonder Tara is both fascinated and a bit scared of him.

The Tom we meet here is not like the young Crocker who we met in the first miniseries -- the soft inside before the shell hardened. This Tom is a marine commando who opts in to Intelligence not because he's uncovered one too many mass burials in Yugoslavia (although it's clear that that should have been the reason), but because he's goaded into it by a commanding officer who sees his potential and makes it a point of pride. Once at Section, he is a natural fit -- and also a good bit happier out of the uniform -- playing with his beloved car, living with his mum, etc. -- but also square in the middle of Crocker's power play against their boss and not inclined to dissuade his Head of Section.

While in the Special Section, Tom Wallace was impossible not to like, so I'm tickled -- especially in the wake of the novel -- to see him back again.

RUNAWAYS v2 #1

I blithely ignored this series the first time around -- teenagers and I tend not to mix. But if I can grow to love Young Justice, then anything is possible. So when this series was restarted, I gamely put aside all fears of a grown-up Power Pack or Gen-X and sallied forth... not expecting to run into PP's Julie Power and former Gen-Xer Chamber. But it's all good.

How good is it? I intend to go through the first series (which was all of eighteen issues). These are teenagers who are busy trying to be adults while still enjoying the perquisites of youth. They are cynical, sarcastic, post-modern, and mindful of the legacies they carry. On the one side, there is the titular team, the children of the extinct Pride. On the other, there is the well-intentioned (but not that well-intentioned) support group for former teen heroes. Considering Brian Vaughan is also writing Ultimate X-Men, to hear characters decrying the notion of putting children in costume to save the world... the irony ain't lost.

Clever, stylishly drawn by Adrian Alphona, and accessible to those, like me, who skipped the first series.

DAREDEVIL #70

See, I was all good with this issue until Alex Maleev used Brian Bendis as a photo reference for a young Wilson Fisk on the last page. Because, dude? Just wrong. If perhaps apt considering Bendis's position at Marvel.

Golden Age ends with a lot of fighting (still not Maleev's strong point) and a few revelations. Matt shows Agent Del Toro the meaning of hero-hood -- and the look on her face when she figures it out is priceless -- and has his final showdown with Alexander Bont, who is more than happy to sacrifice everything and more to bring Daredevil down. Del Toro takes out the Gladiator, Foggy cleans up for Matt, Bont ends up dead of his lust for revenge, and poor Melvin goes back up the river. Things go in cycles on both sides of the fence -- Bont to Fisk, Daredevil to White Tiger, Matt Murdock getting the upper hand in the place where Jack Murdock lost his life.

Next month begins Bendis and Maleev's final arc, The Decalogue, which will cover the 'gap year' between DD #50 and DD #55.

ASTONISHING X-MEN #8

It's been too long since my X-brain has been properly engaged. Because I'm clean out of candidates who could knock out all the psis, taunt Emma, take over the Danger Room, program an ancient model sentinel to sound like a cultist, and would call Kitty 'Ariel'. And who's a female. [Because I refuse to accept Cassandra Nova as anything but a fever dream.]

Good issue in terms of ratcheting up the panic and tension and it's fantastic news that Whedon and Cassaday will be back for a second twelve-issue arc. Even if Cassaday really does hate Emma Frost and Emma's last line has awful B-movie potential.

OCEAN #4

Why do I get the feeling Nathan Kane is going to make sure that nobody but him leaves this predicament? The bodies in the ice harbor unspeakable evil and are fueled by unimaginable power and the Doors manager will destroy the universe to get his identity back. Two thirds of the way through this miniseries and I'm still following along. Because you can almost taste the foreboding.

EX MACHINA #8

And "Tag" continues. For all of you who are waiting to read this one in trade... block some time because you're doing all of this in one sitting. Also, eat first because this one's running high on the eyeballs and dismemberment.

It says something for the plot of this arc -- and for Vaughan's storycrafting abilities -- that gay marriage is a sub-plot. Hundred is eager to carry out the wedding (and hooray for gay conservatives!), but compared with psychotic-episode-inducing symbols, his first date with Suzanne Padilla, the convergence of past and present with Jackson Georges, and his own past choices coming back to complicate things -- not to mention the day-to-day problems of running the city -- what's the big deal about two guys getting hitched?

This arc has yo-yoed back and forth in time, from Hundred's early interactions with the federales as a broke, idealistic civil engineer and his later ones as mayor and how so many things have changed. And how so many things haven't -- Hundred is that much of an idealist that he will throw away his own future for a greater good. Riveting.

NYC Geek moment: I could have sworn Hundred ran as an independent. If he did, then the 11 September 2001 primary shouldn't have meant a thing beyond planning for the future; both the Democrats and Republicans had contested races that year, but it shouldn't have mattered for an independent in a city that routinely runs nine parties' candidates.

BOOKS OF MAGICK: LIFE DURING WARTIME #8

Tim pretty much gets extremely loose -- acid trip, peyote-fueled falling apart and coming together with equal ease kind of loose -- and Cat, Dog, and Molly have their own adventures. Cat is in prison, Dog is with Zatanna, and Molly, poor Molly, is not only forgotten by Tim but also in the hands of John Constantine, who tells Molly more than she wanted to hear. And the siege of Krakow is about to begin.

While this series is getting better from a serial aspect, I still highly recommend the first trade paperback (happily priced at $9) so that you can get caught up to speed in a hurry.

TEEN TITANS #21

Take away Mia's somewhat annoying pages of recapitulation and this wasn't a half-bad issue. Also tying in to Identity Crisis (because everything must, eventually), this has Dr. Light starting his revenge for all that has been done to him and he starts with Ollie Queen, who tells Light to keep the kids out of things.
"The Justice League took my mind and fed me to their young. They made me a plaything to build their children's self-confidence. Don't you understand, Green Arrow? You and the others -- you put them in this. You put them right in the middle."
Everything Light says is borne out -- the Teen Titans don't take him seriously at all (except for Tim). And even with Wally's forewarning, they still underestimate the once-laughable Dr. Light.

What was nice to see here was the way Johns handled the Once a Titan, Always a Titan belief -- Dick, Wally, and Roy are forever Titans (so is Garth, Geoff, so go rescue him out of limbo) no matter whose beeper they currently carry. Also, Vic's handling of Mia. Vic is the perfect example for Mia to follow, as anyone who remembers his painful lack of self-esteem and self-loathing from the old Wolfman days can verify, and it was done without sledgehammering. Judd Winick should only watch and learn.

AUTHORITY REVOLUTION #5

On the one hand, Midnighter did what he set out to do, but on the other.... Hello, Henry Bendix.

Jack and Midnighter have it out and, of course, Jack misses the point on many levels -- not only did Midnighter 'see' what was coming in the larger sense, but he must have seen that the events would lead to Fallout's rupture. Of course, Jenny also sees things and her visions don't match with her father's, which leads one to wonder who is yanking whose chain. Interesting, although I'm not a huge fan of Dustin Nguyen's art.

MANHUNTER #7

This series has been moved on to the Unreservedly Recommended (now if only DC would help me out here and collect this series in trade) list. Marc Andreyko has said that he wanted to start the series off with a bang, get everything rolling without worrying about a slow building of foundations. Quick and dirty has worked here and this may be the title most benefitting from an Identity Crisis tie-in as Andreyko used that black hole as a means of introducing the new Manhunter into the rest of the DCU.

Andreyko earned mucho brownie points with the pop culture references this month (hey, I loved Quincy back when it was on) as well as presaging what will be the next big arc with the murder of Dan Richards, the (a) 1940's Manhunter. The trial of Carl Sands, the Shadow Thief, progresses apace with Kate's attempt to use sheer force to win -- she subpoenaed the JLA last issue -- being turned against her in a bit of (hold your nose and you can choke it down easily) legal maneuvering from a bowl-cut public defender during the cross-examinations of Hawkman and Superman. Kate, whose apartment has been visited by a nosy reporter, knows things aren't going well and is muttering the eyebrow-raising words about how she should have killed Shadow Thief when she had the chance, but her case is suddenly the least of her trouble -- Richards wasn't the only Manhunter targeted for death. And, to top it all off, in a well-planned assault, Sands is freed by someone in the employ of his old employers -- Cheshire.

Kate's history and motives are still largely missing and opaque, but if that's the past Kate, then the present one is very fully developed indeed. Kate's three roles -- mother, prosecutor, vigilante -- are all in opposition to each other and Kate sucks at balancing them; this month, it's motherhood that's finally starting to move north while her prosecutorial skills are looking overshadowed (pun intended).

JLA CLASSIFIED #4

Part One of "I Can't Believe Sue Dibny's Not Dead It's Not the Justice Leage". This is the sequel to the giddy Formerly Known as the Justice League, written without knowledge of Identity Crisis and thus apparently rendered unusable as a mini-series under its own title. So they jammed it into the otherwise unexceptional JLA Classified and we get our fix of DeMatteis and Giffen that way.

Along with the obvious points of divergence from continuity that DeMatteis and Giffen try to wave away with "A long time ago, in a decade far, far away" sign, there are other moments of cringe-worthy resonance with IC -- such as the extended joke about Sue Dibny being pregnant. But...

... But it really doesn't matter. Because I was laughing too hard to care after a few pages. Mary Marvel on caffeine. Gladys. Booster and Beetle. Fire calling Booster. Booster wanting to call Page Six. Sue threatening to call Gladys (Booster's sugar momma wife) and tell her that Booster and Beetle "are much more than just friends" and the boys' vehement denial. The last page, which should have been terrifying, but how can you not break out in giggles at Guy Gardner in a white pimp suit with a chartreuse shirt open at the collar and a gold chain?

HAWKMAN #37

Golden Eagle?!?!? Get me off this nostalgia merry-go-round, I think I'm getting seasick. After seeing The Incredibles and young Buddy, I can't quite look at Charley Parker the same way again -- if that's him, of course, which would be difficult, but it's not as if DC has never undeaded anyone before. Palmiotti and Gray are continuing the nostalgia trip with the Hawks' wannabe sidekick Golden Eagle -- or someone wearing his costume -- while St. Roch (which seems oddly nightlight despite helpful narrative blocks telling us it's midday; from the context, I think those are typos) both recovers from the zombie attack as well as gets infested with the Hawks' old rogues. And Kendra gets randy. Really, really randy.

Carter decides to be a gentleman, presumably because he's fixating on the whole 'if I love her, she'll die' thing. He's kinda got a point -- Shiera being the last of the official Dead True Loves, but there has also been a pair of dead girlfriends in this series alone -- and yet, considering how permanently he's screwed up Kendra's dating life, the least he could do is accomodate her urges. Maybe he just doesn't like hammock sex.

As with, say, Ult-X, I really hope that there's a point and a plot tucked in to all of this nostalgia. Because, unlike the X-Men's chronology, which is linear (albeit wacky), the Hawk continuity is brain-breaking and doesn't necessarily warm anyone's cockles by being regurgitated.

GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH #4

Let me say up front that I liked the issue. Let me also say up front that part of the reason I liked the issue has nothing to do with the issue and everything to do with the cover of The Rann/Thanagar War #1. But.

* Anyone who has read Green Lantern #100-06 (collected in the GL: Emerald Knights trade paperback; a worthwhile arc) knows that Hal -- the not-crazy, still-the-hero, on-his-way-to-being-Barry's-best-bud version -- and Kyle have not only met and fought together, but they've also fought Sinestro together (in GL #100). And Parallax, too, but it's Sinestro that requires a little selective amnesia for Rebirth. Because obviously Geoff Johns has never read GL #100 as he doesn't seem to know that Kyle and Sinestro already know each other. Which is a shame because Hal and Kyle pull a pretty good stunt on Sinestro to defeat him in that issue and Kyle took a helluva beating to pull it off.

* That has to be the most random selection of heroes ever assembled to face Parallax!Hal. Why are the Teen Titans there and not the rest of the JSA? Why isn't Wally there? Or Tempest? or Nightwing? And why does Supergirl get speaking parts when Batman doesn't?

* I still refuse to respect The Big Yellow Locust of Fear. But I will accept a sentient entity that feeds on fear and infects even the bravest... so long as we never, ever, ever see it in bug form and we don't call it Parallax. Because Parallax was a cool name for what Hal became and is still meaningless for a fear vampire.

* I know the Black Circle: Urban Knights arc was stultifyingly dull and offensively stupid, but it's in continuity. So is Identity Crisis. So, for that matter, is the Archer's Quest arc of Green Arrow. Translation: Kyle already has Ollie's respect, Geoff. Just because it didn't happen with Hal's corpse in the room doesn't mean it didn't happen. Giving Kyle Ollie's blessing didn't suddenly turn Kyle from wannabe-Lantern to Finally Able to Hang with the Big Boys any more than the second-but-you-don't-count-the-first Kyle-Sinestro fight did. It's annoying to keep pretending that none of Kyle's accomplishments matter until they get reproduced in a context with Hal.

* While we're on that thread -- for all of the times Kyle got his ring taken back before he gave it the cosmic equivalent of a Lojack system and a homing device, he's pretty good at having to fight without resorting to using his ring.

* Johns wimped out in a big way with the Spectre. Guy is right -- they did get ditched. The Spectre is the agent of divine vengeance and His might is infinite; it certainly stretches as far as Oa. The quick and totally random dispatching of the Spectre was a sour, sour note because it was a transparent cop-out. Especially with the blatantly religious aspect of Hal's resurrection (no, no, Hal. Take the left tunnel to the bright light. The left one, not the right. The right goes to heaven...)

* I really liked Ollie's reaction to using the ring. I also liked Sinestro's diagnosis for why Ollie wouldn't be very good with it.

* I loved Parallax's reaction to Alan and how he described him.

BIRDS OF PREY #79

I think I'm officially hitting a point where the cheesecake art is distracting me from the story. And I'm not talking about the cover. It probably didn't help that the cheesecake art -- it was positively Top Cow-esque with the inappropriate clothes and crotch and T-'n'-A shots -- was paired with a really poor story. I know some of you are in the 'Gail Simone can do no wrong on this title' camp, but... I'm really trying to find what she's done right in the last twenty issues apart from some first rate snarking between Cheshire and Dinah. It's not enough that she's not her predecessors anymore.

Where to start? Characterization. Zinda is nothing more than a Mary Sue while Creote and Savant are painful plot devices. Helena has had a brain transplant (that, or someone's slipping Zoloft into her milkshakes) as she's suddenly happy, relaxed, and making her peace with God and Church after nothing more than getting a new job and Dinah being nice to her. Babs is now almost literally a deus ex machina as she's been fused with Brainiac to give her all the perks of cyborghood and none of those annoying drawbacks. And Dinah... Dinah spends whole arcs as Exposition Lass, doomed to tell everyone's backstories because she's the old crone of the group, and then I-Founded-the-JLA-Lass where she gets to do things like yell at Batman because Gail doesn't think Dinah would ever use her legacy in a subtle manner.

Then we can move on to plot. Or lack thereof. Maybe Gail's just taking this slowly -- hey, Rucka's WW took a bit of time, too -- but the post-Gotham, livin' in a jetplane BoP has been little more than illogical space filling that has more to do with Jerry Springer than actual storytelling. The Harvest story and now this Rose/Thorn thing.... I've had my limit of unintentional villainesses who started out as abused girls and grew up to be good at killing... and the Well Intentioned Cute Men Who Straddle the Line to Help Them. I don't give a flying fig for Rose/Thorn -- she's a third rate Typhoid Mary and I skipped the recent mini -- and I can't say I'm looking forward to a prolonged story featuring her. The real question is whether I care about Helena and Dinah enough to sit through this book -- even when I don't especially recognize Helena.

GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH (repost)

GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH #1 (27 October 2004)... Part of me is relieved. Hal Jordan as the Spectre was never a good fit and the continued efforts to keep them joined meant that both the Spectre (a character that has no place in the modern age DCU; he's Vertigo) and the Hal-Spectre kept showing up. But the rest of me is so gravely skeptical because I can't imagine a scenario where Geoff Johns can bring Hal back and do so without defecating all over Kyle Rayner and all that has happened since Hal went sproing! back in 1993.

This is going to be a miniseries all about retconning, both within the text and meta. Some of it's going to be minor, some of it's going to be major, and a lot of it is going to piss off someone. We start off with the minorly eyebrow-raising stuff. After years of weekly beer-and-bitch sessions with the living GLs -- Kyle, Guy, John, and Alan -- that John and Guy have any undiscussed opinions about Hal is a little silly. That John keeps in contact with Hal -- when Ollie has problems finding him -- is also a little hinky. That Hal is losing control of the Wrath within him, however, is not surprising at all.

After that, Hal gets a little nutty, Kyle crash-lands, Guy wishes he didn't come back from Our World at War, John takes Guy's baiting to heart and goes after Batman, Carol Ferris gets nostalgic, Pieter Cross gets another call from the moon, and Coast City springs up out of nowhere. All that was missing was Pieface.

While this wasn't a bad issue at all, I withhold all judgment until this mini is complete. Because it's gonna take a damned good reason to convince me that this was necessary as anything other than a marketing ploy.

Also, and nontrivially, I'm positive that the timing of this series could have been better. Unless Rebirth is tied in to Identity Crisis -- and a lot more firmly than Hal promising Ollie that he was working on a return -- then this should have been held off until after IC was finished and War Games a little more wrapped up than it is. Too much stuff going on in the DCU right now to have something so major as Hal coming back. 



GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH #2 (24 November 2004)... Okay, so I liked Ollie calling the Guardians "testy little elves". And I will forgive Ethan Van Sciver for drawing Carol Ferris in heels standing on a grate when she'd really be walking around it. And I will ignore the voice in my head that screams out that Kyle is being given the role of the strong one now because he's going to fall hard and fast in #5 ("learn the final fate of Kyle Rayner!").

This is a very hard story to review with any sense of objectivity. Much like Identity Crisis -- it pushes too many hot buttons to easily read it for the story and not the changes it brings. Especially, again like IC, when the changes aren't ones I'm looking forward to occurring.

Johns is charged with the task of redeeming a character many would say is irredeemable. And, two issues in, it looks like he's doing so by splitting Hal's various aspects -- Hal the person, Hal the GL, Hal-the-madman-who-became-Parallax, Hal the Spectre -- into distinct, discrete entities. Peel away Parallax and leave the rest and Hal really isn't a bad dude.

Of course, this presupposes that you can peel away Parallax and that is where I am tripping up. Because Parallax is Hal -- Hal became Parallax not by some external force but from his own internal growth. He went nuts because he'd been living by an insupportable code -- it's not sane to be truly fearless (as opposed to mastering one's fear); it's a sign of psychosis -- and the destruction of Coast City exposed that untenability. It was Hal's worst, most secret fear realized and it made his own self-identity implode spectacularly.



GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH #3 (22 December 2004)... Fully admitting up front that, unlike Identity Crisis, I'm not at a far enough distance from this book that I have any good perspective...

* Why does Kyle keep calling Ollie 'Oliver'? Who calls Ollie by his full name? And why does Kyle keep repeating it? It's not like the narrative is so confused that we'll forget who he's talking to from panel to panel. Nor are either of them concussed and in need of reminding. We had to sit through the crap that was GL/GA: Black Circle -- I think they're on a nickname basis by now.

* I've had cause to point and giggle at Geoff Johns's science before. And the Willpower Color Spectrum/fear-and-antifear business looks like it might be another one. His explanation for why GL rings never worked on yellow defies logic and a few laws of physics. So if the green is the "most pure" and yellow is the least pure... are there Purple-Pink Lanterns out there who are of ambivalent willpower? Do they fight evil half the week, run in fear the other half, and take Saturdays off? Do the Blue Lanterns have to coordinate their schedules so that they're cowards only on days when the Orange Lanterns are feeling the mojo? Talk about your rainbow coalition....

* I'll gladly accept the retcon for why Kyle went off into space back around JLA 76/GL 156 because the original reasoning made little sense. Kyle had just performed acts of incredible bravery and personal sacrifice (see JLA: Obsidian Age) and then flaked out when Terry got beat up? It was a hastily written departure forced by the popularity of John Stewart over in the cartoon universe and never worked.

* I will wave my hands vaguely in royal acceptance and dismissal at the whole revamped Why Hal Became the Spectre business. Because any reason is better than no reason. And Alan Scott is still not looking too good with that choice.

* I am not so ready to accept the retconning of Parallax as an entity apart from Hal Jordan. In fact, I'm not ready at all. On a story-building level, I understand the need to externalize Hal's villainy -- short of divine forgiveness, there's nothing that can exculpate Hal from what he did as Parallax. There are some situations where "I'm sorry" just won't cut it and annihilating the GL Corps before setting out on a career of destruction and mass murder presumably qualifies. It's what they had to do with Jean Grey and Dark Phoenix, too. All that said, the new story for Parallax... is lame and dippy and stupid. The Phoenix Entity's no stroke of genius, but it's better than this.

"Parallax" was a name that made sense for a villainous Hal Jordan; Hal was most definitely seeing things from a different perspective after Emerald Twilight and it fit with his pre-occupation with re-setting time. It's a pointless name for a cosmic fear vampire. The GL Corps had a purpose and an opposite number already; wedging a giant yellow locust into things without adjusting for Krona, the Controllers, the Manhunters, and the Darkstars (and the Monitor and Anti-Monitor and the Qward and...) is lazy. Conveniently forgetting that Sinestro and Guy and everyone else who ever did the yellow ring thing was never driven by fear -- or caused any, really, beyond the obvious.... bah.

Courtesy of Neil Gaiman, we've got eight concepts that have been around since anything began: Destruction, Death, Dream, Delirium, Delight, Desire, Despair, and Destiny. (Delight became Delirium, for those who didn't get through Sandman.) While I'm sure fear is covered by one of the Endless, I'm willing to accept the less spiritual version that the DCU invariably takes (i.e., why the DCU has The Spectre and Vertigo has Raguel, archangel of vengeance) and go with the immortal instead of the eternal.

So what do we have? The Big Yellow Locust of Fear has survived this long by inciting terror when he's hungry and chowing on the results -- the cosmic version of microwave popcorn. Eventually and by means not made clear, the Guardians trapped The Big Yellow Locust of Fear, rendering him powerless... but apparently putting him too close to the Central Power Battery.

[Johns does not do a good job of setting up willpower and fear as equal and opposite forces; he tells us that they are and we're supposed to buy it. In the dictionary, "will" is defined as a combination of choice and passion and intent, "power coupled with desire". Johns agrees that willpower doesn't mean fearlessness... but then says that "only those capable of overcoming great fear" could ring-sling. I'm trying to decide if it's just poor word choice or merely circular reasoning.]

By similarly unexplained events, The Big Yellow Locust of Fear woke up. And realized it was parked too closely to the Central Power Battery. Reaching out to find someone to serve as host -- whether it needed a host before is not said, although it is never shown as having a host -- it latched on to Hal.

Now, here's were we step off the Path of Loose Comic Book Logic and wander into the thicket of This Makes NO Sense, which is bordered by the river Hunh? and leads to the valley of I Really Hope This is AU and Never Gets Mentioned Again.

Accepting that the Guardians just made a boo-boo parking The Big Yellow Locust of Fear next to the Power Battery on Oa -- hey, the little blue dudes in red dresses have a glorious history of poor judgment... how, precisely, does The Big Yellow Locust of Fear use his opposite force -- the green willpower energy -- to do anything? By some sort of yellow-and-blue-make-green kind of power? (Or is that Ziploc?)

And once we wave our hands and run quickly over that bit of thin ice... why Hal? If you're a Big Yellow Locust of Fear, a little groggy from a long nap and with a serious case of the munchies... why pick the one creature out of 3600 who is immune to fear? If you're looking for a quick fix, you go with someone easier -- not everyone in the Corps is a paragon of virtue and righteousness; willpower is not a force of good and enough of the Corps have turned or failed or otherwise proved that willpower is a fancy kind of stubbornness. You can get power -- and fuel -- without engaging in a battle of strength with the one fellow whose willpower (your own personal antimatter) is so great as to have eliminated his suscepitibility to your own kind of power? Ch'p would have served as a host, let alone Mogo or any of the others whose claim to fame isn't fearlessness. Why not pluck Sinestro out of his prison (especially if Sinestro is the reason The Big Yellow Locust of Fear woke up), or find Guy, Sinestro's former pawn?

Let us continue on our tour. For reasons I cannot explain without resorting to But The Story Doesn't Work Otherwise (and neither can Johns), The Big Yellow Locust of Fear goes with Hal. And.... I have to pause here because we're on page sixteen and we've just been told that the whole reason Hal got gray hair is because of The Big Yellow Locust of Fear and I find this unbearably funny. And what happens next is not.

I've recently re-read Emerald Twilight (and re-read my comments on it) and... this retelling of the story is frankly disrespectful to Hal -- as if the original version wasn't bad enough. The start of Emerald Twilight (GL 48-50) has a griefstricken Hal desperately seeking peace in the wake of the destruction of Coast City. He's wandering around in a construct version of the city as he wants to remember it -- a more peaceful and innocent version from his childhood -- and looking for closure (really, for forgiveness) from the people he has lost. Callous treatment by the Guardians demonstrating their aforementioned poor judgment sends him over the edge, but the true fall doesn't occur until Hal has blown past (not killing) the Corps members sent to stop the rogue Lantern. Hal faces -- and kills -- Sinestro, released by the Guardians to kill him (the Guardians know they can stop Sinestro, but aren't sure they can stop Hal), although it is significant that he does not use the ring to do so -- Hal never wanted to break with the Corps or repudiate their code. I'd posit that the fall happens when Hal uses the ring for the final time to kill his best friend in the Corps, Kilowog, after which he takes it off and throws it away.

What Johns has done here is rob Hal of his grief and, to an extent, of his personal code of honor. Now, instead of genuinely grieving his loss and reacting angrily -- and wrongly -- to the Guardians' autocratic demands, Hal is acting out of fear. He's not mourning; he's "terrified". Hal's conscious decision to not kill his fellow Corpsmen en route to Oa, his choice of not using the ring to kill Sinestro, his decision to finally repudiate the GL Oath by killing Kilowog... are no longer his own choices -- they are guided by the heavy hand of The Big Yellow Locust of Fear.

It would have been just as easy to skip over the Why Hal's Hair Went Gray and keep The Big Yellow Locust of Fear away from Hal until the moment Hal charged into the Central Power Battery. Make it a fortuitous coincidence that The Big Yellow Locust of Fear got its perfect host delivered like a pizza instead of trying to make us believe that Fearless Hal was a puppet on a string.

Giving Parallax an origin apart from Hal's own decisionmaking is a cop-out, plain and simple. It excuses everything Hal-as-Parallax ever did because it wasn't really Hal doing it, same as Jay Garrick didn't really kill Terry Sloane (and, hopefully, as Ray Palmer didn't really kill Sue Dibny). I find that cheap, unimaginative, and unworthy of Hal Jordan as a character and a legacy. Sure, Emerald Twilight was lame, but it wasn't intrinsically a bad concept, just a poorly executed one. Undoing it with a move that is conceptually flawed disappoints me greatly -- if perhaps not as much as the fact that my favorite Green Lantern will be sacrificed (not literally) to accomplish it.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #637

This was an issue full of blink-worthy moments. First, there was the rather hideous cover, which did not go well with the generally pretty-pretty interior art. Then there was the flashback to Lex Luthor (aka Superman's arch-enemy) showing Pete Ross (aka Clark Kent's best friend) photo evidence of Clark being Superman. Then there was the everything-but-the-proof evidence of Pete being the new Ruin, out to destroy everything in Superman's life. And finally there was Lois's biological clock going off, presumably for an ulterior motive. In between, Jimmy Olsen got fried, angry intrepid reporter Geraldine got another Lesson, Lupe got to whip out those big guns again, and Lois told Perry that she was shot solely to end the war in Umec.

If Pete, whose life is in shambles, is indeed Ruin... it would be a bigger shock than Tommy Elliot being Hush because, well, Pete Ross has been around a lot longer than Dr. Elliot. It would also be a helluva quandary for Clark -- Diana has already advised him to kill Ruin before Ruin kills one of his loved ones, but what does he do when Ruin is one of those loved ones?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

BATMAN: THE MAN WHO LAUGHS

Before reading, I was of mixed expectation. On the one hand, it's Ed Brubaker and Brubaker does this sort of thing well. On the other, it's a Joker story and it's getting penciled by Doug Mahnke, whose work I have and will continue to gripe about when he's attached to any superhero book.

After reading... Brubaker overcame the other side. This isn't a classic, certainly no Killing Joke, but it's good. Certainly for a Joker story.

The problem with all Joker stories, at least for me, is thus: The Joker is the worst of Batman's villains, a horrifying, murderous psychopath who needs to be stopped in ways that Two-Face or Penguin don't really. And yet nobody's ever going to kill him and that immunity makes for a terrible storyline. Or crossover, as some of us will remember from the execrable Joker's Last Laugh. We know Batman's not going to kill him and, because the Joker has comic book immortality, neither is anyone else; forget Batman's oath -- why hasn't anyone on the GCPD done the deed? So any Joker story is going to have the same arc: Joker kills lots of people in ugly ways, Batman angsts as he tries to stop him, Batman has the opportunity to kill the Joker and doesn't, Joker goes back to Arkham. Rinse and repeat.

As a result, the biggest challenge in writing a Joker story is to eliminate the reminders that we know how it's going to end. Brubaker does this by setting it the story early in Batman's tenure (cashing in on Batman Begins? Perhaps) and presenting this as a first meeting. Batman and Joker can thus both underestimate each other, Jim Gordon can be present as a man who has neither watched his daughter (niece) maimed nor his wife murdered by the villain, and Gotham itself can be a city that hasn't given up.

To Brubaker's credit, there is no constant sledgehammering of foreshadowing, no "sly and subtle" hints of a future very much scarred by the Joker, and that probably saves the story. Because, ultimately, the only way this premise works -- that this is a Gotham that simply hasn't been worn down by repeated assaults and the heroes can still muster the strength to man the battlements with verve instead of resignation -- is if the readers can buy this 'more innocent age' premise. Contrast this with, say, Batgirl: Year One where the reader pretty much got a concussion from the constant clouting about the head with that Sledgehammer of Foreshadowing.

Not to Brubaker's credit, and this is absolutely picayune because one should always expect more of Brubaker, is his continued demonstration of lack of familiarity with the northeast US. Speaking casually of hurricanes in Gotham is patently ridiculous -- Gotham is somewhere on the New Jersey coast and hurricanes are rare north of the Carolinas -- if not as outrageous as his "city of Manhattan" bloopers over in Captain America.

More seriously, however, is the CSI Effect of the story -- what happens when the protagonist in a police story is someone other than the police and ends up doing all the thinking and acting for the cops, who stand around solely to look helpless and make arrests. This is a common pitfall of Batman stories because Bruce Wayne is simply that much smarter than everyone else and doesn't have to get bogged down either by procedure, due process, or bureaucracy. But the best Batman writers minimize this by reserving for Batman only the mysterious elements that the cops (or whoever is charged with solving the crime) wouldn't be able to get on their own. Realizing that Henry Claridge died of a slow-acting poison? Jim Gordon should have been fired if he couldn't have gotten that one on his own without a memo from Batman.

The 'mystery', such as it is -- let's face it, Joker is no Riddler with the clues and a drug-induced fever dream is just as likely to provide insight into his motives as any other method -- is acceptable, if not jaw-droppingly clever. The Joker is still early in his career and part of his power is that he will not let a lack of symmetry or wittiness get in the way of a good mass murder.

The art... Mahnke is still very wrong for an action book -- his dynamic is static and that makes confrontations look like stop-motion theater. But there's not a lot of motion in this book and his high-cheekbone, over-detailed faces suit a story featuring the Joker and his poisons of choice. It's not pretty, but it's not distracting.

Overall? Prestige Format books are outrageously overpriced and I can't truthfully say this was worth $6.95.

(this is a test to see how backdating entries works in blogspot. Apologies to those who saw this when it was originally posted)