Wednesday, June 29, 2005

CAPTAIN AMERICA #7

Considering that the point of this issue was to prolong the whole "Is it or isn't it Bucky?" question, this was a lot more fun than any time-waster should have been. It leaves the reader with more questions than they started the issue with and that's all one can ask for under the circumstances.

(For the record, I've been in the "it ain't Bucky" camp since #6 came out.)

Eyewitnesses are unreliable, but eyewitnesses whose minds are not quite what they should be are even more unreliable, whether or not they are aware of the diminishment. While Point Blank's Cole Cash didn't realize what the game was, Jack Monroe does. Like an Alzheimer's patient after the early diagnosis, he is left to watch and wait for the imminent loss of everything that he is. (Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am; used to similarly terrifying effect by Mark Waid over in Legion this week.) This issue is his story, told by him as he waits for that miserable end.

Read the rest here

Monday, June 27, 2005

LEGION OF SUPERHEROES #7

Mark Waid warned us that things wouldn't be quite what we're used to. It's our fault for not taking him at his word, all the more so because this version of the Legion of Superheroes has been all about sleight of hand and Waid has proven exceptionally deft at this shell game.

This issue has Waid running a few tricks at once. First there is the one involving the official story arc and its straightforward plot-progress, Terra Firma's terrorism, and it is the one that ends up mattering the least. Second, there is Brainiac 5 on Colu, which has no real relevance to the plot at all but carries the most charge. And finally there is the set of delicate fractures within the Legion itself, which in Waid fashion has been a quiet undercurrent all along but is now rearing its ugly head.

It's all about the bait-and-switch: we came to see if Colu could escape Orando's fate and left wondering if the Legion itself would survive. Waid has been at this all along -- come to see the teen heroes of the future and wind up with something far richer and more complex than anything Teen Titans could come up with. Take a look at the covers of this issue and the debut -- Brainiac 5 and Cos are in identical poses, each on the book that the other is a lead character in. Bait and switch.

Read the rest here


(this one ended up an essay-length review)

Sunday, June 26, 2005

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #19-20

You can't really go wrong with Mike Carey and Jae Lee as the fill-in team between Warren Ellis and Mark Millar.

This is a sea change from Ellis's run in tone and tempo, even as it follows plot-wise. The characters speak with different voices, albeit recognizable ones. Ellis is a pseudo-science, technobabble kind of guy, but Carey takes a more traditional route, especially considering his taste for mutilation (especially of and by family members) in some of his efforts for Vertigo -- self-inflicted neurosurgery and involuntary brain donation. Rhona Burchill's a piece of work.

The story itself fits neatly between Ellis's N-Zone arc and Millar's upcoming Crisis on Multiple Earths thing -- after making a mess of the Las Vegas strip as they fought their way free of the N-Zone and their pursuers, the Four have destroyed their veil of secrecy and are being escorted back to the Baxter Building... which has been taken over by rejected candidate Rhona, who has eyes only for revenge on Reed Richards, the candidate chosen at the same time she was rejected. She holds an auction for the newly revealed Four, won by a Latverian concern, and things look to be bleak for our heroes.

What ends up is a battle of wits between Rhona and Reed and it's not really that close. Rhona has been planning for this and Reed is somewhat outside of his purview and really isn't used to being outsmarted. That he wins in the end (again) and Rhona loses is a relief to everyone else, but is extremely unsatisfying to Reed because of how he defeated Rhona -- dumb luck. Rhona is the only one who can appreciate Reed's reaction. "I hate the random factor. It makes the best predictions problematic. It gives mediocre minds an unfair advantage," she grumbled after Reed freed himself. And even though he was the beneficiary of the random factor, Reed burns at the accepted implication that that is the only reason why he succeeded.

(Reading this story directly after digesting this week's Legion of Superheroes was most entertaining; Reed, Brainy, and Rhona...)

Lee's art, as ever, is interesting and gorgeous, cutting between realist and fantastic in the same panel.

As for what comes next... meh. I derive great pleasure from the old JLoA Earth One and Earth Two teamups, but they came with a down side: there's a reason why DC had to instigate The Crisis back in 1986 and it started with a little dimensional hopping.

TEEN TITANS #25

The middle of a giant tuchus-kicking brawl seems like an odd place to do expository work on Wonder Girl, but, hey, Geoff Johns is Continuity Cop now (yes, we do appreciate the irony). So right before she administers electroshock therapy to her boyfriend is as good a time as any to announce that Cassie's not a girl, but not yet a woman.

In all seriousness, Cassie did carry her weight in the issue far better than last time, when she was little more than a teary-eyed punching bag for Conner. The same holds true for the rest of the Teen Titans, who rebound well from last issue's destruction. Except for Vic, who is still a bucket of parts, but that's probably for the best as he doesn't want to be around for any recollections of Teen Titans going rogue because of faulty programming (JLA/Titans: The Technis Imperative).

The Outsiders, as per their usual routine, are fighting the last war. They are reacting to Indigo's betrayal instead of dealing with its consequences, bickering among each other instead of solving any problem, and then have the nerve to try pulling rank on the Teen Titans. For that they get slapped down and then shown up by Cassie, who makes the hard choice. Whether Shift will do so over in Outsiders is at Judd Winick's discretion.

Overall, the better half of this crossover has been in Teen Titans. Foreboding-laden exposition by Brainiacs aside, Lex Luthor gets most of the good lines, I found it really hard not to giggle at the prospect of Conner getting turned good and evil like a light switch with the magic words, and it would have been a little nicer if we weren't being knocked upside the head every third panel with harbingers of Donna Troy's return, but if that had to be anywhere, it was going to be here. (Just why in the middle of a story about Conner...)

BIRDS OF PREY #83

The best issue of the arc thus far. And not just because Helena finally has her midriff covered again.

Gail Simone's seasoning the Dinah-Ted dialogue with a much lighter hand when it comes to the "I remember you in diapers"/"Uncle Ted's favorite niece" routine and the result is something a lot closer to a partnership instead of a family business. Which is good, under the circumstances, because their adventure in Singapore before this has been an object lesson in why Batman is right about personal involvements clouding judgment. Their plan to simply remove the drugs from the global flow sounds a little simplistic, but sometimes simple is good and we never got to see it work out anyway.

Back in Gotham, Helena, having been out of town during War Games, is being a bit more clever as she sows the seeds of a mafia combustion, although I'm still not sure what's up with her bevy of hunky flunkies. I'm hoping she's got a part in what shakes out of the last page -- Crutches versus Huntress -- beyond just being The Fling. Helena deserves better than that. I trust Simone to make more sense of this than Devin Grayson, but I don't know what anyone can do with Dick Grayson being undercover as Dick Grayson.

The Brainiac!Babs continues to baffle, although now we get the added extra of OMAC and Brother I. I like the idea of OMAC being used to neutralize Babs should she figure out what is going on, but the Brainiac infection... even if this does eventually tie in to the morass over in Outsiders and Teen Titans, I can't say it will be worth it. Hooking Babs and Brainiac up wasn't an exciting storyline when it was introduced, didn't improve in subsequent appearances, and yet it just keeps sticking around, like the nanotech rash that it is.

And finally, this was the issue where I nailed down precisely what bothers me about Joe Bennett's work on this title. His faces. Bennett's men's faces are studies in creases and angles, wrinkles and hair. His women have no lines. They don't even have real noses except in full profile. They have no cheekbones, no crinkles, and their eyebrows are eerily thin. All in all, it makes them a bit freaky-looking because it messes with their expressions, giving them an unfinished and stupid look -- what's important is below the neck, anyway. Which is perhaps not the message you want to send on the highest profile Grrrl Power book.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

HAWKMAN #41

Last issue, I griped long and hard about how Palmiotti & Gray couldn't expect us to believe Kendra was dead because they'd just spent all that time extolling the restorative virtues of Nth metal. Which she was wearing. Which Carter was also wearing at the time he got mauled by the manhawks this issue. And so I'm not taking any bets as to what's in that coffin everyone is pouting over, although I may be willing to wager a bit of pocket fluff on whether Katar shows up for a bit. Especially with Shayera back on the radar.

Sadly, the solicits tell us Charley Parker's getting to be Hawkman for at least an issue, a stint that will hopefully have a duration somewhere between Parker's tenure with the Teen Titans and Stephanie Brown's run as Robin. As for the news that Charley is Carter's son... blech. Even if it's true. For a couple who had childlessness as part of a curse -- remember once upon a time that Hector was a blessing (yes, yes, impossible to believe, but true) -- the Hawks now have progeny popping up all over. Kendra's got her daughter and now Charley's also claiming lineage. It's like the Summers family, but without the mad geneticist living in the basement.

Before and after the tortured revelatory exposition, Carter getting to lop off heads and growl a bit was some fun. I think I may still be on record as suspecting young Master Parker of being the money behind Fadeaway Man's team-building, but with the swirling black hole that is Infinite Crisis sucking everyone in with its unopposable gravity, I suppose we have to take a look Secret Society-ward. Either way, I'm not all overjoyed that all the villains in the DCU are getting unionized. (Grant Morrison's first move will be to reinvent Geomancer as Jimmy Hoffa.)

Monday, June 20, 2005

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #641

This was fun.

I'm still highly skeptical about the whole Pete Ross as Ruin thing, but at least Greg Rucka is keeping things off-kilter by leaving it open as to whether Ross is really in control... and whether that ultimately matters. Ross has knowledge and, whether as master or servant, he has the power to do Clark Kent serious damage and is thus a genuine threat. Finding genuine threats for Superman is not nearly as easy as it looks.

In the immediate wake of Pete's beat-down at the hands of Lupe Leocadio, Clark keeps a straight face as his concern changes from disbelief to caution as he realizes that Pete knows what he's wearing under his suit. Clark has to weigh what he knows about his childhood friend versus what he has seen from Ruin; he has been a hero for too long to be swayed by protestations of innocence or to dismiss out-of-hand claims of possession, but this is Pete Ross, one of a small handful of people Clark is not used to having to consider completely objectively.

All of this is an internal struggle, which was balanced out by the throwdown with the Allston twins and the appearance of the OMAC units, which do appear conveniently. I'm not quite sure how those work -- are they unknowing sleeper agents who have been activated or are they Matrix-like Agents, innocents suddenly turned into killing machines? Either way, presumably this means that Max Lord is watching. The question is whether watching is all he's doing.

In the B-subplot, Lois seeks advice from Batman on how to track down her sniper. This is the subplot for now, but knowing Rucka, it will rear its head at a crucial juncture. Lois wasn't shot by accident and there have been far too many coincidences in the Lane-Kent sphere of late.

MANHUNTER #11

Mark Andreyko continues to produce the most compelling female-driven comic book at DC. The question is whether enough people will realize this before the title gets canceled. Manhunter's sales numbers are on par with most Vertigo titles, but it does not have the advantage of either speedy collection in trade paperback format -- the TPB collecting the first six issues won't be out until the fall -- or the cushion of being on an imprint with more modest sales expectations.

Unlike the recently canceled Fallen Angel, Manhunter is a definite part of the DCU, both as a legacy title and as a reflection of current events. DA Kate Spencer, the titular Manhunter, was featured in an Identity Crisis tie-in -- the trial of the Shadow Thief for the death of Ronnie Raymond -- and is presently fending off the bad press resulting from the mistrial. Kate is also an unknowing target of a killer with a very narrow victim profile: Manhunters past and present.



postscript: Manhunter information, for those interested (not necessary for the storyline)

DEATH, JR. #2

Adapting non-narrative material to a narrative form is a risky proposition, video games especially. From Tron and Super Mario Brothers to Final Fantasy and Alone in the Dark, there is a long and inglorious history of writers trying to turn games -- even games with a "plot" -- into an actual, interesting story. Even the ones that do succeed, say Tomb Raider (for small values of "success"), don't have enough bottom to carry them through either the inevitable sequels or further translations, as anyone who has ever picked up one of Top Cow's Tomb Raider books can tell you.

Death, Jr. is an exception that proves the rule. Smart, clever, extraordinarily funny and touching, this is a title that should be read whether or not you ever intend to pick up the game. It is silly without being juvenile, mischievous without being cruel, and positive and good-hearted without being treacly. Gary Whitta has created a story that is vastly entertaining without needing to be salacious or bloody, an all-ages tale that will appeal to adults without talking over the heads of younger readers. It is in the same spirit and style as The Incredibles and will hopefully find as broad an appeal.

Read the rest here

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Shrew visits Crabapple Comicon

The Shrew and her faithful sidekick saw Batman Begins on Friday night, opting for IMAX. Sadly, Our Heroes did not arrive early enough to avoid sitting in the fourth row, which meant a neck crick and the action sequences getting blurred with the poor angle of perspective. Nonetheless, a splendid movie. Bale, Neeson, Oldman, Murphy, and Caine were superb and even the Thetan-in-Training Holmes acquitted herself, although I don't see why they didn't just bite the bullet and make her Harvey Dent instead of Harvey-as-Silver (St. Cloud).

Silver was a topic of discussion Saturday afternoon at the Big Apple Comicon, which was dedicated to the Bat as a whole and featured a panel with Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, Terry Austin, and John Workman. Considering the participants, the panel could have been quite entertaining, but in fact it bored to tears. A shame, really, as those four men have enough stories in them to provide an hour of solid raconteur-ship and were all pretty enthusiastic. There were moments of interest, but "interviewers" Allan Rosenberg and Ken Gale sabotaged the panel, treating the onetime Detective Comics creative team as though it was a Beatles reunion and focusing on the "magic" that lead to the collaboration (which, as Englehart explained, really wasn't) instead of its legacy -- the supposed premise of the panel -- or Batman in general. It was so dull, an audience member tried to chat up the Shrew, which would have been less ridiculous except for the fact that the Shrew was sitting in the third row and the panel members were probably close enough to hear the comics-themed pick-up lines. Especially as there was no microphone for the panel.

Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris were next up and, once they survived Rosenberg's harrowing introduction, were quite entertaining. Or maybe they were moderately entertaining and it was just a relief after the previous panel. They answered questions as best they could and tried not to make it too obvious that they were more excited about what they could do during the free trip to New York than about the convention. Even if they hadn't, it would have been forgivable. Big Apple Comicon, as the Shrew's sidekick explained to Vaughan when he asked later on in the afternoon, is a bit... underwhelming. Actually, it's a lot underwhelming and the experience could be boiled down to promised entertainment Aerosith: a couple of guys dressed up as Star Wars characters unimaginatively lipsynching to badly recorded mixes of movie audio and rock music.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

JLA #115

On the one hand, this was probably the most accessible issue of JLA in a while. On the other hand, it was so accessible because we've all been clouted about the head with the details of Identity Crisis for so long, we can recite them in our sleep.

DC has unofficially named Geoff Johns ubermensch for all things Infinite Crisis related and it's just as well -- most of the characters appearing in this issue had their solo book written by Johns for some length. As a result, everyone sounded vaguely familiar and the one thing you can't say about this issue is that anyone was out of character.

This month's story was a snapshot of a necessary point in time, the original JLA reunited to deal with the aftereffects of IC. It's a reasonable moment to focus on, although I'd have perhaps preferred this conversation to have taken place sooner after the fact, even if the second half of the issue was more time-sensitive. We never really saw that team-within-a-team after everything shook out and Johns does a respectable job of exploring the states of mind of the key players with respect to the mindwiping of Dr. Light and Batman.

At the time of IC, it was a shock to see the heroes acting so unheroically and that was part of the effect Brad Meltzer was going for -- an extraordinary act by a group not expected to behave in such a fashion. But now the intent of that moment (the mindwiping) is not surprise and revulsion, but instead it is the primum mobile of Infinite Crisis and, toward that end, Johns has to shift the focus from that specific action to the motivations behind it and the other actions taken since that have snowballed to the point where there is Brother I and a miasma of distrust surrounding and separating a formerly unified group.

This issue is not a bridge between JLA: Year One and IC, which at some place in the future may be an interesting story to tell, but it is helpful in terms of retconning those Silver Age characters into people who would make the decisions that they did as well as making those people recognizable in today's versions. More or less.

Now, years later, hindsight has only changed things so much. Ollie is full of guilt, Carter is annoyed at the second-guessing, and Zatanna is upset by the fact that she doesn't regret what she did. (Of less import: Dinah sort of wrings her hands in the background, Hal is still on his accountability kick, and Wally stands in for what Barry stood for instead of what Barry actually did.) I really liked Zatanna's horrified reaction, her surprise that she isn't as ashamed as she feels she should be and that she made the best decision under the circumstances. Carter's reaction is less complex, but pure Hawkman -- he has never (in this incarnation) pretended to be anything but a warrior and a smart soldier doesn't leave enemies behind to attack from the rear. Ollie... Johns has a different take on Green Arrow than Meltzer did, one that is more in line with what Judd Winick and Kevin Smith and the other GA writers have done. Meltzer's angle was to mix Ollie's liberal idealism with a cold pragmatism -- "how the world works" is sometimes truly ugly and requires a matching response. Meltzer, perhaps more than anyone else recently, saw heroing as a fundamentally selfish act as well as a selfless one and had Ollie willing to sacrifice his idealism for the safety of those he loved. I thought it was an immensely appealing concept and did wonders for making Ollie a likeable, complicated character and so I'm disappointed to see Johns take a more popular and simplified approach to him.

As for what happened as a result of all these darting glare and sharp words, I'm going to be generous and give Johns the benefit of the doubt (and the style of word bubble) and assume that that wasn't J'onn at Star Sapphire's bedside. Johns may not like the JLA very much -- his personal bête noire, Wonder Woman, was mercifully not relevant to this issue -- but he can't have so little respect for them that he'd have the Martian Manhunter acting so unilaterally and, well, stupidly. J'onn was still somewhat hypocritical; after the events of JLA: Year One, can you blame any of the others for wanting to keep him out of their heads?

I am perhaps getting a little too cynical for this storyline. My immediate reaction upon finishing this issue was not pleasure or disgust or anything less extreme. It was wondering which trade paperback collection this issue would be put into for the second round sales.

RANN-THANAGAR WAR #1-2

Stepping belatedly into the Rann-Thanagar War....

Of the four Path to Infinite Crisis miniseries, Rann-Thanagar War is the most geared toward the dedicated (as opposed to the casual) fan. More people may be able to identify Hawkman than Detective Chimp or Catman or Sasha Bordeaux, but this story requires more canon knowledge than OMAC Project, Day of Vengeance, or Villains United combined.

Instead of taking obscure characters and giving them a new story, R-TW is a story of old feuds, older alliances, and gods that are older still. You need the DC Encyclopedia as well as a roster sheet to keep track of who, what, when, where, and which side.

Dave Gibbons made the wise choice to not introduce everyone, else he wouldn't have any room left over for the plot. On the whole, Gibbons deserves commendation for slogging through this without getting beaten to a pulp by the Exposition Fairy and judiciously choosing what's truly necessary to explain while leaving the rest for the fanboys to giggle over. We can figure out Queen Komand'r, shady ruler of the Tamaraneans, and her people's role in this story without knowing about Tamaran's succession crises, the destruction of Tamaran (and New Tamaran and... how many planets have they called home?), or Komand'r's relationship with her sister Koriand'r (aka Starfire). The backstory of the L.E.G.I.O.N. can be guessed at enough by Kyle Rayner's offering free protection. The Omega Men, the Khund, Shayera Thal, Prince Gavyn, and all of the planets in the dominions of Rann and Thanagar have relevance in the DCU, but while it adds an extra kick if you can say what that relevance is, you can follow along without that knowledge.

This briskness of characterization is a double-edged sword, of course. Kyle is Generic Green Lantern, neither his dialogue nor his constructs seeming especially unique to him, Komand'r's got a bit of Old Skool Marvelesque dialogue, and if you aren't already vested in at least some of these characters, I don't know if you will be sufficiently tempted to become so. The folks who annotate comics would be doing fans of the DCU a service by taking on this series because there's a wealth of fun to be had here with the references.

Beyond the massive cast of who-are-they? characters, the plot of R-TW is dense and a bit confusing for a monthly serial. We've gone from radical cult threatening a fragile peace to full-scale war in the first issue, then from simple conflict to a complicated one involving several planets and peoples and many layers of alliances and anticipated betrayals in the second. For this reason, I suspect this may be a better read all at once, at least as far as the warfare goes. But if you do read the issues all at once (or at least reread the previous ones), it is shaping up as an old-fashioned action story. Not as cheerfully pulpy as Adam Strange, but not as dizzying as Kurt Busiek's recent JLA arc, either.

What is being underplayed a bit in these first two issues is how this story will tie in to the Infinite Crisis. Checkmate, the Spectre and the DCU's magic, and the Secret Society are all hovering in the same general area as the Big Three, but what sort of ripple will Rann's and Thanagar's imperial war have back on Earth? The not-too-subtle hints about technology -- Onimar Synn's classic pose on the last page, Adam Strange telling of Sardath's precautions in not letting him carry his own zeta-beamer -- should be the clue, but even if someone's planning to start disappearing earthfolk or moons or zeta-beaming invasion armies, how that would affect the dissolving alliances among Earth's heroes.... The Big Three are not directly affected, but the Green Lantern, Starman, and Hawkman legacies are involved and Rann has a lot of friends back on Earth.


For the record (although I think the Shrew falls under the Absorbascon's radar), I'm rooting for Thanagar. There's very little a good mace can't cure.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Whither the Shrew?

The Shrew has been a busy rodent about town. Tonight was a movie screening, the second in two weeks, and yesterday was MoCCA's festivities.

MoCCA's convention was a far cry from Wizard World Philly -- more hipsters, fewer Storm Troopers, and a more intelligent feel than the banks of video games and booth babes. I'm no hipster, but I skew more toward MoCCA's demographic than one that produced that scarring Captain Marvel sans sports cup the other weekend. The danger at MoCCAfest is being pretentious instead of getting bowled over by a giant Pikachu. Equally harmful.

The Jonathan Lethem-Dan Clowes panel conversation was more interesting than I thought it would be. Once they got past the mutual admiration society stuff, they had an interesting discussion about inspiration and the creative process as well as the effects of changing mediums -- Clowes on the differences in Ghost World the movie versus the books, Ice Haven from single issues to graphic novel; Lethem on writing a story and a screenplay and a comics script.

On the whole, the exhibitors seemed a good deal less shellshocked than they did at WWPhilly. The fest was crowded and a good time was had by all. The Shrew left the festival with an armload of goodies, most of which will make an appearance here in some fashion:

minicomics
Carl is The Awesome #1-4 (Cliff Face Comics)
The Amazing Cynicalman #14 (Not Available Comics)

quasi-mini comic
Crossover Comics' 2005 Convention Special

single issues
Emo Boy #1 (SLG)
Action Philosophers! All-Sex Special #2 (Evil Twin Comics; Preview)
Nisha #1 (Crossover Comics)

GNs and collections
Pulpatoon Pilgrimage by Joel Priddy (Adhouse)
Pop Culture Shock Therapy by Doug Bratton (Winter Oak Press)
Max Hamm, Fairy Tale Detective by Frank Cammuso (Nite Owl Comics)
Golem: Our Sins of Yesteryear by Alexander Lamas (RDC)


... so the Shrew is going to be playing catch-up all week, what with all the shiny newness piled about. (And next week brings another Big Apple Comicon and some obscure movie featuring a man with a bat fetish...)

Monday, June 13, 2005

FABLES #38

Of course it couldn't have been that easy.

Boy Blue, armed to the teeth with his mystical wonders and displaying great wit and competence, has had a ridiculously easy time of it as he makes his way to the capital to find the Adversary even considering his fifteen years as a soldier in the initial war. Solving every puzzle, besting every foe, demonstrating patience and cleverness as needed... nothing that good could last. The Winter Queen saw to that.

With most of Fables having been set in and around Fabletown or the Farm, this arc has brought us to the Homelands (hence the name) and is really giving Bill Willingham and artist Mark Buckingham a chance to play around in a way that they haven't been able to. Fabletown and the Farm are all about hiding the extraordinary from the mundane, but there's no reason to do so in the Homelands and, as a result, there are wonders everywhere. There's a palpable sense of this being the place where the Fables truly belong instead of hiding in an enclave on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Legends in exile, indeed.

Read the rest here

NIGHTWING #109

Phil Hester's blocky, chunky art style is perfect for this story arc -- writer Devin Grayson is certainly not painting her ideas with a fine brush. The foreshadowing is subtle as a train whistle, the angst has been applied with a trowel, and Grayson is taking the same plot shortcuts that undermined her previous arc (the Blockbuster-gets-capped storyline) well before she had Nightwing raped on a rooftop.

This is a story that has to be flawless and fascinating in its execution because the plot is not going to carry it -- even in a post-Identity Crisis world, nobody actually considers the possibility of Nightwing actually becoming a mafia villain to be possible, let alone likely. We know how this has to end, with Nightwing back on the side of the angels and back in Batman's good graces, so the challenge for Grayson is to at least make it worth our while to care what happens before then. She's not meeting that challenge. What we wanted was Donnie Brasco. What we've got is volume two of Darkness, and not the good parts.

In Devin Grayson's world, whether you are gay or straight, male or female, you are guaranteed one thing: you want Dick...

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

JSA #74

If I were the sort of sharp-toothed rodent who disqualified books if they were based on premises made impossible by recent canon, this issue wouldn't have gotten very far at all. But I'm not that kind of Shrew, so let's grab a stick and poke at this puppy, shall we?

As I mentioned last time, the Black Vengeance arc is plagued by inconsistencies major and minor as well as the more serious and unforgiveable problem of having the entire JSA as secondary characters to the storyline in their own book. This second issue is more of the same and could have been boiled down to a page or two in an issue of Day of Vengeance.

I liked the Black Reign story arc and thought it ended too abruptly, so this return to Kahndaq should have been welcome, but it's not, for reasons far more pressing than Geoff Johns forgetting that it was during that arc (which he wrote) that Hawkman was booted from the team and hasn't been reinstated yet. Or that Eclipso ended up helping Black Adam for reasons mostly unrelated to Black Adam himself.

The JSA does literally nothing here except snipe, regret, and fret -- and only occasionally at someone outside the team. This could have been the exploration of means versus ends that got lost in Black Reign. How dirty was Black Adam's coup and how much do the people of Kahndaq care? Were the JSA being narrowminded and prissy and holding to an outmoded code of conduct, especially when it was the Kahndaqi citizens who would have died for the JSA's principles, or is what they stand for timeless and worth any amount of sacrifice? Should they have rethought their attitude considering that the citizens of Kahndaq seem happier? What is Black Adam's form of government? Johns has utterly failed to define the country he played with last year -- is it a Latveria-type situation where the people have such a high quality of life that they don't care about the international exploits of their leader? Are they destitute? Are they rebuilding? What has Black Adam been up to, anyway?

None of these questions get any sort of satisfactory answer. Instead, we see Black Adam -- who may be the hero, the antihero, or the villain in disguise -- fighting a two-front war against both the Eclipso-Spectre duo and the JSA, both of whom he sees as invaders, a fact the JSA recognizes, which goes a fair bit toward establishing their own regrets. The JSA is no match for the Spectre and took a completely wrong approach with Black Adam by dismissing his sovereignty and showing up despite a fairly explicit Do Not Enter sign. So they pretty much get what they deserve, which was a beat-down.

The team looks alternately like naive boobs and frustrated do-gooders on the macroscopic as well as the microscopic -- before Carter Hall did his Manly Man thing, there was his lip-quivering about Alex Montez and Soseh Mykros and gratuitous Jean Loring comment (the reason everyone flipped at the end of Identity Crisis was because an insane Jean was just too random; retconning in her instability does not make it better). He should have been lamenting Norda, but that's by the by.

Johns is no better with the real start of the arc. He has been inconsistent about how much sympathy we're supposed to have for Black Adam -- he is supremely pragmatic, willing to go to any length to keep his nation safe and free, and Johns doesn't seem to want to say whether there is a line that shouldn't be crossed to accomplish that. (Gail Simone is a little less Clintonian regarding BA over in Villains United.)

All in all, I finished this issue frustrated and annoyed and feeling quite badly for the people of Kahndaq. This is a weak storyline based upon a nonsensical premise and not only does it not do anything for the furthering of the JSA's storyline (apart from the unasked-for return to the team of Jakeem and inexplicable return of Hawkman), but anyone coming to this book for the tie-in factor would come away unimpressed by the DCU's most longstanding team.

Monday, June 06, 2005

VILLAINS UNITED #2

In this second issue, Gail Simone has offered up the elements of a decent thriller tale -- are the protagonists good guys or bad guys, are they cannon fodder or underdogs, and do they really even care one way or the other? Where Villains United fails is that we don't have enough vested in those protagonists to care ourselves once the comic book is closed. This doesn't keep it from being fantastic popcorn theater -- it's certainly far more entertaining than a book about these six characters has any right to be -- but it does keep it from being a great book as opposed to a pretty good one.

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SMOKE #1

What a breath of fresh air.

Alex de Campi has given us a vivid, intriguing new story that is refreshingly different from the current zeitgeist.

Smoke is the story of Rupert Cain, a good soldier who has not been repaid in kind for the sacrifices he has made. He is a pawn in the high-stakes game of a very corrupt government, but he is a dangerous pawn -- he is a government assassin. Cain is very good at what he does, but what he does is soul-killing and he knows it. When his mentor turns up dead, it's enough to shake him out of the unthinking rut he's put himself in.

If Transmetropolitan had been a political thriller, it may have ended up something like this. And I mean that as a compliment. De Campi has created a story that is very much a part of the Transmet, V for Vendetta, and Invisibles vibe -- a Britcentric universe that is too fantastic to be realistic, but in which we can recognize so much of our own politics and society. There are more direct comparisons, especially with the freaks and failures who populate the Walled City, the press shenanigans, the thoroughly rotten government and monarchy, and the general distrust and distaste of the gentry, but never to the point where it feels stolen.

Read the rest here

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Shrew Anticipates Infinite Crises

As my boss is wont to say when something else goes FUBAR at House of Employ: Just call it Job Security. The Shrew looks to be safely engaged in the fine art of griping about funnybooks for the forseeable future after Dan DiDio's interview at Newsarama regarding Infinite Crisis. Why?

The entire DCU will restart post-Infinite Crisis with the same three words: One Year Later.
“There will be big scale changes,” Didio said. “New characters, perhaps new series, new alliances, friendships, relationships, changing locations, and we might not even have some of the same people under the masks one year later.”
Connor Hawke as Batman? Superman based out of Chicago? Jon Michael Carter and Bruce Wayne as the new Hard Traveling Heroes? Barry Allen replacing Wally West? The possibilities are endless because, really, the more ridiculous the better. Go on, come up with your own.

The Shrew will be in Philadelphia tomorrow (which is why there won't be any reviewing done until after the weekend) and looks forward to seeing some of the hubbub up close.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

DAY OF VENGEANCE #2

So far, this is turning out a lot better than I thought it would.

The banter and bickering between our reluctant team of heroes was the high point of the issue, although I wonder how I'd feel about Enchantress's and Ragman's moment (or non-moment) if I had ever regularly watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As with last issue, it's fairly impossible to dislike Detective Chimp and the rest of the team is starting to develop as well. If nothing else, Bill Willingham will go down as having found productive use for Blue Devil. I mentioned last issue how much I liked his take on Ragman.

Now, granted, I'm still not sure what to make of the whole Eclipso-Spectre relationship. Or, rather, the whole Spectre-as-Leonard Shelby routine and how it's getting used in this story. I understand the concept -- The Spectre, without a human host, has no reservoir of memories and is operating on base instinct to mete out vengeance -- and think it has potential for abuse by villainy, like the way it seems Eclipso Jean is using it. But I'm not sure I like the way Willingham has interpreted this anchorless force.

Not that I ever mind Hector Hall (Dr. Fate) getting dispatched quickly and without putting up much of a fight, but Willingham has turned the spirit of divine vengeance into a dangerously powerful simpleton, a sort of supernatural Lennie Small, and I'm not a fan. The literal overkill of the Spectre's actions at the start of the issue -- capital punishment for what the 21st century considers regrettable (instead of mortal) sins -- was great, but the childlike eagerness and gullibility not so much so. The Spectre has often been depicted as fundamentally uncomprehending of human nature beyond its basic imperfection; the Spectre needs its human host to keep it from wiping all of humanity out at once for its sinning ways. I don't like how that jars with this insecure and lustful Spectre who has somehow gotten more human without a host.

Willingham gave a Newsarama interview where he talked a good game. So we'll see where this goes.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

BATGIRL #64

On the face of it, a throwdown between Cass Cain and Rose Wilson should not take twenty-two pages. Cass has been training her entire life, but Rose has only been at it (seriously, at least) for a comparatively very short amount of time. Ravager being Deathstroke's daughter or not, this shouldn't have been anything close to a fair fight.

It wasn't a fair fight and, to Andersen Gabrych's credit, it wasn't dragged out too long in order to prove that point. Cass cleaned Rose's clock in between the inevitable flashback comparisons between Rose and Slade Wilson and Cass and David Cain. Where Gabrych makes this work is by having Cass assume that there is a resonance between her and Ravager and then be correct in that assumption, but for the wrong reasons. Rose and Slade have the same relationship Cass had with her father, but that's pretty much all Rose shares with Cass. The fundamental difference between the two is beyond the merely physical: Rose is falling into her father's world and Cass is scrabbling to climb out. And Cass realizes this and makes use of that realization to not only defeat Rose, but Slade as well.

I still haven't decided whether Deathstroke setting up Ravager to take on Batgirl is really clever or completely screwy. Rose will finish the job because that's what you're supposed to do, but Slade has to know that Cass is out of Rose's league and he has already lost a son to similar ambitions. On the other hand, he knows Cass won't kill Rose, so it's good practice.

As direct the comparison between Cain and Deathstroke is made out to be -- and it's pretty direct, down to the way both men stole their daughters -- I'm curious to see where Gabrych goes. Because Cain and Slade aren't the same; there's an edge of madness to Slade for what he did to Rose and the past history of Adeline, Joseph, and Grant Wilson. There's plenty of resonance between Rose's subcontract with the Penguin and Grant Wilson's contract with HIVE and Slade's reaction to both. David Cain is the star of the next story, so we'll see.

The monthly DC direct sales numbers are out and analyzed and Batgirl is still on the way down. The last big spotlight on this title came from the execrable War Games crossover and that was the end of the unlamented Dylan Horrocks run, hardly the sort of stuff that would entice readers of the other Bat titles to pick up the book. I've mentioned before that Batgirl doesn't get any real non-Bat exposure because Cass is neither Teen Titan nor Outsider. While there are very good reasons why she isn't, both textual and metatextual, it's hard to get the word out about the improvement during the Gabrych run when this has been one of the few books untouched by the Infinite Crisis build-up. Heck, even Manhunter managed to cash in on Identity Crisis. And, yes, I do realize the irony of that plaint considering my general griping about how every book in the DCU is dancing around the Infinite Crisis maypole.