Tuesday, July 26, 2005

DAY OF VENGEANCE #4

Just for the record: in the cartoon version of Day of Vengeance that plays in my head, Detective Chimp is voiced by (pre-illness) Jack Klugman.

And so while half of you go to IMDB to figure out who I'm talking about and the other half work to erase that mental soundtrack, on with the show.

Bill Willingham has created a fun team that works well together despite a total lack of teamwork and is fully capable of appreciating just how lame their moniker is. Imagine Buffy's crew if all of them were superpowered and Giles was a chimpanzee. Bound together by a mix of desperation and recklessness, the Shadowpact does all right to at least force a draw with the seemingly unstoppable combination of the Spectre and Eclipso while dealing with various obstacles -- including their magical router, the Enchantress, reverting to her evil ways. Blue Devil's handling of that was fantastic.

Showing a foresight that should be applauded, Willingham has centered this series around the aforementioned chimp. The exposition goes on a bit too long, pulling the reader out of the scene much as the similar backstory cramming Barbara Gordon did in this week's Birds of Prey, but it's kind of hard to argue that there can be too much Detective Chimp when the others seem to do much better as supporting players.

This issue featured the recruiting of the newest member of the 'Pact, Black Alice (speaking of BoP), who had the most inappropriate moment of the issue. Dressed so that her thong straps, bra straps, and midriff were in plain sight and with pants so low she needed a waxing, Alice displays no trace of irony in mocking Nightshade's attire as whorelike, despite Nightshade being fairly modestly dressed by female superhero standards. That scene did amuse, however, with Alice's father wondering precisely what his daughter did after school that she was being wooed.

I feel bad for still waiting for the other shoe to drop, but this has been one of the more entertaining of the Crisis II prequel miniseries.

Monday, July 25, 2005

JSA CLASSIFIED #1

I probably shouldn't be reviewing this book. I don't care enough to give it a full insectivore shredding. I have nothing kind to say except that it's really nice to know that Pieter Cross gets plenty of mousy treats for Hooty. Hooty, by the way, seems to have an eye for Power Girl's hooters. Geoff Johns definitely does, which seems to have been the driving force of this book. And what Johns wants, he gets these days. As Mel Brooks said in a very relevant context, "It's good to be the king."

There was absolutely nothing of substance in this issue except for the aforementioned mammaries, which were intentionally played up in Amanda Conner's art (because too much of a good thing is not enough? Because Wizard magazine will give the book better coverage? Because this way the readers can be led along by following the bouncing...). It was mostly a rehash of old scenes from other books, except sexed up -- I don't remember Dr. Mid-Nite having quite such a problem with PG undressing that he broke into a sweat during a professional exam back when it was originally written for JSA. Other than that, nothing.

Back when this book was solicited, I was one of many who griped that you shouldn't be introducing continuity points in ancillary series -- if you're going to get around to doing PG's backstory, it should be in JSA itself. So far, however, all we've gotten around to is that PG has many backstories and none of them are true. (Scipio has got a working theory that I'm happy to subscribe to, so I'll just point you there.)

I've never been a PG fan -- it's more apathy than active dislike -- so not even the promised soap opera theatrics involving the Legion will get me to pick up the next issue of this.

MANHUNTER #12

You have to feel bad for Mark Shaw.

Cast aside, supplanted during a previous DC Gets Edgy! phase, and left leaving a lonely existence out in Las Vegas, Shaw now has to worry about the sudden murders of both a predecessor and a successor to the Manhunter title.

He has even more to be concerned about because it looks like he did it and DEO Cameron Chase is in hot pursuit.

GOTHAM KNIGHTS #67

Apparently, the Random Generator was working overtime in the BatOffices this month.

Not being a huge devotee of Gotham Knights, I didn't have either the energy or the inclination to go back and re-read the issues with Hush kidnapping Alfred and the whole Is-It-Or-Isn't-It-Tommy Elliott thing, which in hindsight I'm not even sure I read all of when it came out. I'm fairly certain that it doesn't really matter -- all the backstory in the words wasn't going to make the reveal at the end of this issue make any sort of sense.

The main plot -- a wedding-videographer-by-day/pornographer-by-night splices together video proof that Bruce Wayne is Batman and tries to blackmail him -- would have been more ridiculous than it seems if Tim Drake had any other backstory than what he does. I mean, if a twelve-year-old can work it out, why not a seedy shlub with a video camera? This part is actually not half-bad; it is completely plausible for there to be sketchy conspiracy theorists in Gotham obsessed with Batman and his enemies and our too-self-aware erstwhile blackmailer has no aspirations beyond getting rich quickly. Bruce offers him a far greater reward for his silence, but he simply can't comprehend a wealth more valuable than hard currency. That works very well.

Where the issue falls apart -- and Lieberman issues pretty much are guaranteed to fall apart somewhere -- is how Alfred handles the money drop. To misquote a pal (whose fault it is entirely that I even picked this issue up), it's never any fun when the butler actually did it. Alfred's solution to the blackmailer? The end of the issue brings us one dead cinematographer and one bloodstained butler.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Over.

I don't care if Alfred's operating under some sort of mind control or if this is Hush's master plan. You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and you most certainly do not turn Alfred Pennyworth into a killer.

What hurts this story even more is that it is looking like a (really) weak copy of what's going on in Manhunter this month. And Manhunter was a far, far better read.

I know there's a reason I don't regularly read this title and I know the sign of insanity is to do the same things over and over and expect different results. So I'm going to chalk this up as reinforcement that I made the wise choice to not make this book a regular part of my Batreading and move on.

BATGIRL #66

Did Lobo get a tan?

I can't help but be disappointed in this issue, coming as it does after last month's sharp story. The last issue was complex and richly layered and this... was played for yuks. And I'm just not a yuks kinda rodent.

Considering that this arc has an actual plot -- Cass's self-discovery as she tries to track down her mother (whom she still thinks is Shiva) -- there's a certain amount of self-discovering that should go on. That said, the various elements of such in this story were random -- part of a generally random story that had bits flying in from nowhere.

It started with Cass dragging that lucky boy off for a quick snog -- no, you don't need to be comfortable with normal social interaction to do that, but it felt a little too wacky to be any boundary-testing -- before riding off into the sunset on her motorcycle. The Great Roadhouse Adventure was straight out of, well, Roadhouse (except with Lobo-lite instead of Patrick Swayze) and would have been dealable-with if it had ended there.

Cass gets her butt-kicking scene at the bar and then goes on to ponder Shiva-as-Sandra, which is a rather heavier moment than matching quips and punches with bikers, and it would have gone perfectly nicely to have her get a few more questions, a few more answers, and a few more clues about herself. Andersen Gabrych has done good stuff with Cass's internal monologue as she contemplates her parentage -- she vacillates between disgust and curiosity and hatred and longing -- and more of that would have been peachy.

But we didn't get any more of that. We got all hell breaking loose with Pig Boy showing up to pursue his lady love, having followed Cass's scent, and then Granny turning into an OMAC (speaking of randomness) and dragging him off. At which point I went "uh-HUH" and hoped for better next month.

As much as I wave pom-poms for anyone, I wave them for Gabrych, who has waded through the guano in the Batverse like a trooper. So while everyone has their off months, I'm more inclined to grant him a mulligan. As long as he doesn't do it again.


Sunday, July 24, 2005

ULTIMATES 2 #7

The problem with Mark Millar isn't that he spends too much time trying to be Warren Ellis or that he puts out wretched books like The Unfunnies and wonders why we don't fall over ourselves in praise. The problem with Millar is that he comes up with some great storylines and then sabotages them, either from sheer perversity or disinterest. Sometimes, as in the case of Ultimate X-Men, both at once.

I think the diagnosis is the former in this case. And not just because he whacked my favorite character in the series. As with Ult-X, during the second season of The Ultimates Millar has fallen in to the trap of some really exciting plot ideas being driven by some really unlikable characters. You could sort of see this coming last season with his domestic battery subplot, the remnants of which leave me in the awkward position of really wishing someone would beat Janet down after an issue in which she's hanging out with Hank, but it's spreading.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

ASTONISHING X-MEN #11

This was quite a bit more fun than it should have been. Especially with the heavy hints of a deus ex machina ending in next issue's season finale. Piotr renders a rambling Kitty speechless, Xavier turns the tables, and Logan gets some good lines and is well-used because he's barely used. And, oh, yeah, we're set up for one heckuva throwdown.

I wasn't a big fan of secondary mutations when they cropped up -- I still think Emma's was the only interesting/useful one and that because nobody at Marvel ever seems to know how to render telepaths uniquely -- and this latest twist on it, whatever Xavier turns out to be... Before the fact, it feels a little tired. Xavier has been hiding stuff from his proteges and students since the start -- not to mention faking his own death -- and so if Charlie turns out to be another Omega-level mutant (like Cable and Nate Grey and Magneto, etc.) or, heaven forfend, some demigodling-esque creature... to use Whedon against himself: Bored now.

The Xavier stuff took up most of the issue, but thankfully didn't feel too draggy. In part because it moved quickly and kept away from speechifying -- Xavier's stunt with the trailer cab didn't hurt, either -- and in part because the rest of the issue was crackling. Logan was in high dudgeon and Emma wasn't playing nanny and Scott was obviously in control.

The three pages between Piotr and Kitty were worth everything else in the issue put together; Whedon has earned mucho brownie points for updating them as people (instead of just as hero-types) so we're not repeating old conversations. This Colossus fangirl has yet to regret a panel of his return (okay, so "I am made of RAGE!!" didn't exactly make me swoon, but he'd been talking to himself for a few years and I forgave him), as opposed to my prompt denial of the return of Havok by the time Chuck Austen got through with him.

The end of the first season comes with the next issue, which should be jam-packed with the throwdown with the mutated Sentinel and Miss Danger Room (which I suspect will be a much briefer fight than it looks), the big reveal of what exactly Xavier "is", and some decent interpersonal interaction.

The second season is scheduled down the 'pike -- I've lost track of what the time differential is between when Marvel solicits an issue as appearing and when it actually appears -- and we'll have to sit through some miniseries first.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

SERENITY #1

I wasn't sure whether or not to avoid this or not -- I want my Serenity viewing to be pristine. On the other hand, sometimes the prequel books do help out the story when there's too much exposition. The Nightcrawler mini attached to X-Men 2 was great in terms of adding necessary backstory, for instance.

As expected, this could have been the first part of a new episode of Firefly and for that, it was a ton of fun. The crew is just where we left them and, with Joss Whedon's hand in the story, everyone sounds just as they should. The blue-gloved guys are there, too, with that freaky antenna thing that makes people's eyes bleed.

The format change doesn't hurt very much. If you're familiar with the television show, then you can probably clearly hear the actors' voices and nothing sounds false. Even if you can't, the pacing and lettering are such that Jayne still mutters under his breath and Simon is still a beat behind when it comes to anything involving Kaylee. The Chinese is rendered, too, but the words lose a little bit -- in the show, the spoken Chinese was as important for its intonation as what the words meant and so even when nobody knew what was being said, it was easy enough to guess the gist. Here they are just characters -- more accurate than the actors' occasionally butchered pronunciation, to be sure, and we can still guess the context but...

In terms of the three covers, I liked the Brian Hitch (Jayne) on the best, I think, followed by John Cassaday's (Mal). JG Jones' cover seemed to capture the youth of actress Morena Baccarin more than her sensuality and the result is a sort of unripe beauty.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

JLA #116

I suppose Geoff Johns was the perfect writer for this issue -- not because he's the Continuity Cop, but because who else better to write a story where the JLA looks like idiots?

Selina's appearance was pleasant, if extremely random, but I think I lost the ability to like this issue right around the time Wally starts making saucy banter with Star Sapphire. The dialogue during the fight with the bad guys hurt in general, which I didn't expect with Heinberg on board, but the scene in the Batcave had its moments. Sorta. Zatanna's apology, really, because ultimately Batman is accusing the rest of the JLA of making just the sort of decision he would make and reacting to him just the way he would react and I was rooting for Hawkman once I realized this. (Actually, before this because I'm a Hawkman kinda shrew.)

Batman wanted the JLA to not have made the strategic choice (i.e., to erase his memory so that he wouldn't undo the lobotomizing of Dr. Light and the Secret Society), to instead consider his feelings (i.e., mindwiping villains is unethical because it destroys free will)... which is precisely what everyone always gripes to him. Bruce has plenty of genuine causes to be pissed and I think others have addressed it better than was done here, which is... not surprising.

The JLA in general lived up to their expectations under Johns, completely unable to draw lines between consequence and event unless Batman drew it in crayon first -- ohmigosh, if they know Bruce's secret identity, maybe they know ours, too! The panicky flight from the Batcave? They gave the realization panel to Wally because precisely who was everyone else running off to save? Hal's the only other one with immediate family who don't own kevlar-lined spandex.

And oh, hey, look. Despero. Woo.

BATMAN #642

This was another of those issues where something isn't sitting quite right and I can't quite place what it is.

Andersen Gabrych's Batman is more his father's son than most; early in his run on Detective Comics, Gabrych had Leslie saying that Bruce should have been a doctor and that was probably a bit of an avatar moment. His Batman isn't as much dark as he is determined; Bruce is hopeful instead of stubborn and maybe doesn't take himself so unremittingly seriously. The whole "I could practice my tai-chi, but I'm actually going to sit here and brood" scene brought that out well. There's nothing really wrong in that idea as a concept, so maybe I'm just feeling the dissonance between a Batman who literally fights to save Killer Croc and, say, Brian Azzarello's incarnation who thrilled to bad guys peeing themselves. It's not as if Bruce hasn't been wondering about Croc since the Hush storyline. The old school dialogue in that scene probably didn't help, although I am at a loss to suggest alternate text.

For the part of the story that was away from the Bat, it was a pleasantly textbook example of what happens when you catch a tiger by the tail. Black Mask and Mad Hatter have Killer Croc under control, but are not sure how well or for how long. Croc's (really, really gross) scratching at his implant could be instinct or he could know what's there; we never really get a sense either way. Doesn't matter very much as his reaction upon its discovery would be the same and Batman gets there in time to save Hatter for prison, but after Croc's little moment of sympathy for Hatter's girls. The bad guys were fun and, in the larger scope of things, harmless, which is what you want in what amounts to a filler issue.

Monday, July 18, 2005

SMOKE #2

While Smoke reads like a fast-paced thriller that could sell millions as a blockbuster movie, the parts that I seem to enjoy best are the ones that would keep it from ever being made into a film -- at least by the sensitive souls in Hollywood.

There are plenty of traditionally perfidious elements: government assassin Morrison's involvement with Jennie Bland, the blonde bombshell reporter; the scheme with OPEC to insider trade; the overlapping circles of "quiet men" and their betrayers. Smoke is a spies-and-soldiers action drama with crooked politicians and ruthless manipulators and regretted loves and a very black sense of humor.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Shrew gets silly

The plan was to stage a coup whilst everyone is in San Diego, and to that end, we have been most successful:

East Coast Bloggaz.... represent!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER #1

I liked The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Year One and was warned off The Dark Knight Strikes Again before I could read it, thus my Frank Miller Batman experience has been largely positive. So I suppose that in my sheltered existence I was a little unprepared for this... tripe.

There's not much in the way of redeeming features here. Maybe the Jim Lee cheesecake art (which rates lower than it used to on the hormonal meter because while Lee's Bruce is very, very pretty... Lee Bermejo's Bruce is hot), but that's only a maybe because I wanted to see something I hadn't seen in Hush and I didn't. Except maybe a more thorough study of the sort of lingerie men fantasize that women wear when they're home alone but really don't.

In tone and text, Miller is going for a Sin City feel, but it's not happening. The stylized monologues are out of sync with the story, not to mention not fitting well over Lee's compositions and Alex Sinclair's bright color palette, and the genre dialogue ("Go back to your newspaper, Sexpot.") sounds wooden and falls flat because it's up against too much modern slang and phraseology. It was supposed to be all noir and cool, but it ended up reading like Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer voicing over an episode of Baywatch.

What do we actually have? Enough gratuitous T'n'A shots of Vicki Vale, who transforms from Carrie Bradshaw to simpering female to Lois Lane in a dizzying and illogical rush, to qualify this book for honorary membership at Top Cow. There's the stalkeresque Bruce himself -- Vicki's right, why is he following Dick's career -- who is reduced to just another Miller archetype once he pulls on the cowl. There's Alfred, but he's only really a caricature with ludicrous dialogue whose sole purpose is to fuss. Dick is a dissonant combination of youthful innocence and mature cynicism. And there's a "plot", which is really a composite of many storylines Miller has already given us elsewhere to greater and more novel effect.

Save yourself the cash and go watch Sin City again.


Along with many others, I thought this book was a bad idea from the start, but I'm not especially gloating at having been proven right. Out of the dozen-ish Batbooks, there are four that focus primarily on Batman himself (Batman, Gotham Knights, Detective, Legends of the Dark Knight). Do we really need another? Was there some reason why this Miller/Lee arc couldn't have been folded into, say, LotDK, a Batbook that hasn't mattered in years and could have used the boost? It's not like this title is appealing to a different demographic than the other Batbooks. It's certainly not more kid-friendly.

And what happens when Miller and Lee go away? (We all sigh with relief and then cry at what they've done to continuity because this run will still be going on post-Crisis II.) There aren't enough decent writers covering the Batbooks now. At best this becomes a maxi-series. More likely, however, is that this title gets handed from writer to writer, decreasing in quality and relevance, until it gets handed to someone like Andersen Gabrych, who can gussy things up but won't have the cache to draw readers to his efforts.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Shrew Swims with the Bigger Fishies

The Shrew contributed to the inaugural Buzzscope monthly roundtable discussion Industry Buzz.

It was orchestrated by Guy Le Charles Gonzalez, who makes a habit of trying to herd cats. And while it covered areas not normally within the Shrew's purview, who is she to give up an opportunity to yap to an audience? Or gripe about Chuck Austen?

OUTSIDERS #25/DC SPECIAL: THE RETURN OF DONNA TROY #2

I've been waiting for a few days to see if I could come up with a coherent and informative response to Return of Donna Troy #2. I had held off commenting on Outsiders #25 because it was supposed to tie directly in to RoDT #2, but now that I've read both I can firmly say that I shouldn't have bothered. Either waiting or reading RoDT #2.

Outsiders featured the finale of the Insiders crossover with Teen Titans and it was a more impactful end than it should have been. There were logical loopholes big enough to drive an SUV through and it reads stronger without the RoDT postscript, but it wasn't bad.

The Indigo/Shift romance has been played strictly for giggles and tentacle porn, so the seriousness and poignancy of the flashback scene and its present-time conclusion felt a little ex nihilo, but they were the best parts of the issue. Indigo and Shift were the two members of the team facing the greatest identity crises and the irony of Indy's solution did not go unnoticed.

Everyone else in the Outsiders was kind of their usual selves -- a little out of character and not doing much of interest or use. Since when has Kory been hesitant in battle? Why did Lex go through all that trouble to activate Superboy in the first place, re-activate him when he broke conditioning an issue ago, and then just give up and leave him behind instead of using the magic words again? The fight scenes underwhelmed in general -- woefully inefficient considering there were two teams present, despite Kory's going supernova. We all knew Dick would storm off eventually, so I suppose all that was missing was the on-panel settling of the pool organized by Roy and Gar as to when that would be.

Of course, Dick wasn't going to be gone long and his insistence lasted only a few pages into RoDT #2. Which is about how far I lasted the first go-round. Phil Jimenez needs a much firmer editor or, even better, a scripter, if he's going to be writing any more stories. (And no, I didn't even start Otherworld.) The narrative in this issue was dense to the point of impenetrability, far too copious, and not very interesting. Plus, his dialogue needs serious work and he needs to prioritize. The story itself is stiff enough as it is without unending explanations of inconsequential Pre-Crisis continuity points. The Exposition Fairy was pulling a double shift on this puppy.

Everything said for the last issue holds true for this one, except now we've got the full reunion going with the arrival of the old Teen Titans and their newer proteges, the full reversal of the old Mind Games of the Titan Seeds plot, and the Empathetic Glowing Orb of Travel Joy. We're also rapidly reaching the point of unreadability -- the art is truly lovely, but oh, lordy is it hard to to keep paying attention. We've known since the last pages of Graduation Day that Donna was coming back sooner rather than later, but did it have to hurt this much?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

BATGIRL #65

Batgirl has quietly become one of the most enjoyable Batbooks around.

Andersen Gabrych has subtly and patiently constructing a Cass Cain who is a product of her past but not a slave to it, unlike certain other pointy-eared Gotham types. I was initially very skeptical of the move from Gotham to Bludhaven, but in hindsight it was completely obviously necessary (unlike over in Robin) as it has allowed Cass to develop as a character and a heroine away from the shadow of the Bat. This hasn't been a perfect beginning -- I still want to see Gabrych put a little more juice into his world building; the too-convenient moles, perfectly decked-out abodes, and weak problems to solve are not worthy of the work he's doing with Batgirl herself -- but it has been more than enough to wipe the memory of Dylan Horrocks' run from the memory cache.

Arguably the biggest difference between this Cass and her previous incarnations is that she is no longer afraid of herself. Cass is doing her best to accept her horrific beginnings and move past them, becoming part of a world she hid from for too long out of fear that she'd break anything (or anyone) that she touched. She is learning to read, learning to speak, learning to interact with her surroundings because she is curious, not just out of professional need. Bruce Wayne goes through life casing the joint, looking for weaknesses and escape routes and stripping away all of the inefficiencies and thus all of the joys, but that's a path Cass no longer chooses to emulate. Instead of Batman being the model, Onyx has taken on a greater role. Another reformed assassin, Onyx can give Cass both hope for the future as well as the occasional ass-kicking. Batman, on the other hand, is almost like a colleague -- Cass shows up unsummoned at the Batcave and expects to be treated as a fellow professional. That is a far cry from her more timid past interactions with her mentor.

Cass-the-fighter may no longer be all of who Cassandra Cain is, but that is still an important element and Gabrych has effected his changes without losing any of Cass's uniqueness as a living weapon. Quite the opposite; she has become a truly special force, making much more use of her 'gifts' than she did with previous writers. Her ability to read people through body language (something she doesn't do in her civilian mode, either intentionally or unintentionally on Gabrych's part) has too long been an unused part of her arsenal; she now taps into it as needed, assessing and reassessing situations and, as was the case in this issue, knowing when it is the only way she will be able to get answers.

This issue begins a story arc that would have been impossible at any earlier point in Cass's history. She has never cared who her mother was because she has always been too afraid to look closely at her own life, especially anything that touches upon her father. David Cain's interest in his daughter has always been discomforting; he raised her as a kind of animal, but is now almost apologetic, although while his paternal affection exists, it is pragmatic in the extreme and no comfort. Cass is frustrated by him, but not to the point where she is excluding him from her emotional renovation -- she did give him a Father's Day present.

If you missed the start of Gabrych's run, don't fear. I think this stands perfectly well as a jumping-on issue. Which means you can pick this up (it came out 29 June, but should still be on the current issues shelf of your LCS) instead of a half-dozen of the other Batbooks that aren't nearly this cool.

Monday, July 11, 2005

VILLAINS UNITED #3

Memo to Catman and Deadshot: get a room.

This issue was all about fun with torture and the results thereof. We found out why most of the Six are working for Mockingbird (Parademon slept through the group confession and Scandal was otherwise occupied) and got a lot of theories about the psychology of witnessing torture. And Catman got everyone out of trouble by knowing entirely too much for a third-rate criminal turned Tarzan.

I said this for the first issue: the blackmail material is remarkably pedestrian. 'Loved ones in peril' is a tried and true method, but it's boring. Especially when dealing with criminals who have a history of murder because all that tactic does is humanize and soften characters who are fundamentally selfish and hard. Cheshire and Deadshot aren't reluctant criminals; they are reluctant here because they're working for someone else instead of themselves and they are working blind. The whole 'it's up to us to save the world from the Society' talk sounded plain odd for the same reason.

The more Black Adam has to do, the less I like him. He's as tough as a stale marshmallow, willing to make the hard choice but unable to keep from angsting about it. I much prefer Hawkman's type of 'damn the consequences, full speed ahead' warrior ethos. Between this book and JSA, Teth-Adam was close to becoming an insufferable weenie and to top it off, he's so gullible to boot. Just threaten his lands and he acts in the most predictable fashion -- reacts, nowadays, instead of acts. And everyone else notices it, too; the minute he starts getting fractious, Lex whips out the bomb and says there was another near Kahndaq. He is the odd man out in the Society, the bad boy who really isn't, and I wish the DC writers would make up their minds and decide whether he is fish or fowl, honorable warrior or villain, instead of just a ridiculously powered milquetoast.

Overall... meh. Nothing exciting is happening, no characters are turning out charismatic enough to get interested in, and I'm just following along because it's easier than trying to read the official Crisis Intervention updates.

GOTHAM CENTRAL #33

Ed Brubaker's swan song with DC begins with this arc, a "red ball" (i.e., both shifts called in and everyone working on the case) co-written with Greg Rucka and featuring a devilish plot allegedly contrived during an interview. Despite the random provenance and status as a high profile case that in lesser hands would feel like a blatant sell-out to appeal to a broader audience, this is a story well-grounded in the Gotham Central world -- old enmities, relationships, and references abound.

The case is trouble from the get-go: a teenaged boy, dressed in Robin's outfit and armed with some of his toys and a batarang nearby, is found dead in an alleyway. The questions are endless. Is it really Robin? And how do they know? Is Batman a suspect? The boy died as a result of a fall from a rooftop, but was he pushed or did he jump or did he just fall as he tried to skim across to the next roof? Does discovering the true identity of Robin lead to Batman's identity -- and do they really want to know who is under Batman's cowl? Every answer leads to more questions and every question is colored by the person asking it.

OCEAN #6

On the one hand, this was a rollicking good space adventure -- the best parts of Warren Ellis's run on Ultimate Fantastic Four, except with grown-ups instead of precocious teens, and a fair bit of Firefly. On the other, while this was a great story that will read exceptionally well as a single unit, it loses quite a bit broken down into six parts as a mini. This should have been released as one single graphic novel.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

LEX LUTHOR: MAN OF STEEL #4

This was the first issue that showed a few flaws, although they were the sorts of flaws that the next issue can clear up quickly. And even flawed, this was another standout issue in a standout series.

Lex's plan to replace Superman with Man goes forth... but where is Superman? We get an appearance by Clark Kent, but I'd have liked an explanation for why Supes isn't around to do any of the things that Hope does. This story is in continuity in a Loebian fashion -- any part of the DCU that doesn't quite fit the story is being ignored -- so there's a 50-50 chance any canon-justified reason you came up with to explain Big Blue's absence would be possible. But I'd have liked Azzarello's reason, especially if Clark has time to file his news stories.

That quibble aside, this was a lot of fun. Over the course of this series, we have seen Lex engineer some truly dreadful things in the pursuit of his goals and the presence of Mr. Orr, the henchman Azzarello created over in Superman, is the thin melody in a minor key that something else is about to happen. And oh does it, framed for contrast by Lex's 'softer' side -- before by Lex's glorious public speech and after by his interactions with Hope.

The Pygmalion story works well, especially because it is a love triangle. Mona's frustration -- and humiliation -- is palpable; she has been seduced by Lex's power, not truly understanding that she hasn't lost Lex to another woman or even another ideal. He was never available to be had.

Azzarello is playing us slyly. This is Lex's story and it is being told by Lex. He is feeding us lines the way he is feeding the public during his speech. He talks a fantastic game, a really fantastic game. He is so good at the rhetoric because, like the best lies, he makes sure his are mixed in with a little truth. Does Lex really believe in the ultimate triumph of human ingenuity? Yes, he does. But it is not humanity as a whole that he is looking at, instead it is a much narrower vision: Lex Luthor versus Superman. Lex isn't interested in a spire that goes up infinitely to match the unlimited nature of human potential; he's building a weapon to kill Superman. And, like the other tower of Babel, it, too, will fall.

As has been the case for the entire series, Lee Bermejo's art is stunning.

SEVEN SOLDIERS: SHINING KNIGHT #3

The only reason I'm still looking at this is because of Simone Bianchi's gorgeous art. Sadly, I've pretty much lost all interest in the story (as I have with the Seven Soldiers project as a whole) and skimmed the words, skipping the too-long expository parts entirely. There's absolutely nothing original going on here plotwise -- our time-tossed hero is doing his best Kyle Reese imitation, the suspiciously helpful consultant turns out to be suspicious for a good reason, and the Sheeda move forth -- so I didn't miss an awful lot. Morrison even killed off (or as good as) his most vibrant character.

There is enough potential plot and imagery on display to make me sort of wish that someone else with an interest in exploring the depths will take up the challenge of rebooting Sir Justin in the post-Crisis II era with some of the same elements. The differences between where Justin was and where he is are greater than technology or geography and far more complicated than Morrison wants to get into. He hints at so much and then doesn't go anywhere with them; if it were anyone else, I'd say he was distracted by the scope of the Seven Soldiers project, but it is Morrison, so, well, I should have known better.

Bianchi's art, however, is absolutely worth the cost of admission.

FANTASTIC FOUR #527-28

So this is the start of JM Straczynski's run. I'm... not quite sure what I think. I know the first issues of anyone's run are a bit of a feeling-out period, an establishment of the house rules, but I can't say I warmed to this version. There were elements of the first issue that were quite nice and elements that were so very, very JMS and some that I just sort of shrugged and moved past. The second issue... I found it unpleasant in vague ways that I cannot quite pin down.

The whole project to recreate the F4's originating accident so that there would be more superpowered heroes didn't make sense last time -- hello, is this not the same universe with the eighty billion mutants, three-quarters of whom are a MetroNorth ride away from the Baxter Building up in Westchester? -- and it felt icky on many levels. Like trying to recreate a rape scene because the child born from the first one turned out well. Reed's involvement felt tawdry, even though it was being played a little for kicks, and I really hope he was the one to sabotage it. There's something mopey about this Reed that isn't doing it for me. Mark Waid's version was self-critical too, but there was a spark of animation to him that's missing here.

I'm never a fan of the hyperrealism trick of bringing in Social Services for kid heroes. After decades and generations of kid heroes and sidekicks, it is only ever a plot device and a weak one. It was used recently over in the Batman books (DYFS came after Bruce Wayne about the then-long-dead Jason Todd) and that played slightly better than this one because it was less ridiculous than flinging charges of parental negligence against the first family of superheroes.

I think I'm missing something in JMS's treatment of Ben... either that, or JMS is missing something. Either way, I think I'm dropping the title. I know the Ult-FF crossover is coming up and I'm not looking forward to that.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

BATMAN #641

I'm having a very mixed reaction to this story arc.

On the one hand, Family Reunion has been such a rollicking good time, so energetic, so caustic, so snarky, so much fun that I find myself wondering where the heck this Judd Winick has been for the last three years and who was the preachy, self-absorbed shlub handing in scripts with Winick's name on them. Folks who lived through my Turbo Nuclear Dark Shrew phase while I was still reading Green Arrow or who are still reading Outsiders find themselves looking for a fourth pale horse on the horizon when I start mumbling about maybe putting this arc on my shortlist for the Top Books of 2005 (First Half edition).

On the other hand... bringing back Jason Todd, as I just griped about with Hal Jordan, should mean something and it should be toward a very good purpose. Bringing back Jason Todd is huge. Huge. Anyone who can stay dead for longer than a decade needs a really good reason to rise from the grave. And so far, Winick has not provided one. He's just been entertaining enough to hide that fact for a while.

Tweak the story a little bit and Family Reunion works just as well without Jason. This wasn't a story about Jason per se -- there was nothing here that was about the troubled teenager and the man who tried to fix him and who ultimately failed him. This would have read just as well with anyone who tried and failed to be Batman's colleague and who doesn't have a solid track record of preserving life past the point of common sense. All Red Hood needed was a decent knowledge of the BatCode of Ethics and a recent atlas of Gotham and this issue works just as well without the whole Let's Do DNA Testing parts.

Jason's promise -- to be Gotham's vigilante where Bruce has been her hero -- is valid and has much potential, especially with a Red Hood who is harder to knock down than the typical Gotham mook and won't be needing the sort of mercy that Jason mocks Bruce for. Jason is seemingly emotionally functional, physically capable, and tactically sound and he could be a terrific problem for Batman because he could be a success all while being exactly what the GCPD thinks Batman is (an out of control vigilante) and doing nothing to ease post-War Games tensions. Not to mention throwing the Batclan into an uproar once they find out.

Bruce's final words -- that it ultimately doesn't matter if Red Hood is the real Jason Todd -- are hooey and everyone knows that. (And I'm not convinced that this is even the real Jason; Jason cited the Loeb/Lee Hush appearance and this could just as well be a second bait-and-switch) The ramifications are endless -- Dick, Tim, Barbara, Leslie, and everyone else who lives intimately with the shadow of the Good Soldier that Jason posthumously became; Clark, Diana, and the larger sphere. The Joker, when he recovers. There could be so much done here, but it seems odd to be doing it smack dab in the wake of War Games and right during the lead-in to Crisis II... Except.

Except if after the One Year Later post-Crisis II debut, Jason's going to be wearing the cowl. (Because it's been a while since AzBats and post-Crisis II needs their version.)

In the end, I think I will give this issue and this story arc the sort of praise I give the best of Jeph Loeb's stories: fun stuff, but I wish it weren't in continuity.

GREEN LANTERN #2

For the record, my eyes crossed the minute Captain Mary Sue started groping Hal.

They stayed crossed once Captain Mary Sue announced with wonder that the green part of Hal's uniform generates heat while the black part performs other functions. (Memo to Geoff Johns: Just because you've been wanting to write Green Lantern since you were thirteen doesn't mean you should stick with the ideas you came up with when you were thirteen.)

They totally glazed over once the Most Powerful Weapon in the Universe started channeling the Exposition Fairy to such a degree that even Hal told the damned thing to shut up.

They uncrossed in time to catch the Most Powerful Weapon in the Universe reduced to serving as a video-enabled walkie-talkie and then some half-decent Hal backstory. Geoff Johns has been consistently strong in showing the many ways Hal lived with (or didn't) his father's legacy. But that, along with the start of the Manhunter arc lost all momentum and impact after a finale that combined a painful lack of subtlety (the "Better Safe Than Sorry" sign on Jim Jordan's car), Johns's firm belief that nobody can stay mad at Hal for longer than thirty seconds (Wayne Enterprises led the funding for the rebuilding of Coast City?), and one too many panels of Manhunters that was straight out of the various Terminator movies.

(To paraphrase Jeff Lester, because he got to it first, Why can't DC bring back one Manhunter without bringing them all back?)

The Shrew's been in hiding until her eyesight returned.

Contrary to all popular opinion, I really do want to love this series. I like Hal Jordan quite a bit. Not as much as I like Kyle and Alan, but quite a bit.

Where my frustration has come from is simple: bringing back Hal Jordan needed to be spectacular and it hasn't been. It has been eight issues of servicing of a very particular kind of fanboy and it has been pedestrian and it has been unoriginal. It has felt like a vanity project, like Geoff Johns is doing it because he can, not because he had a sales pitch that knocked the DC folks off their chairs for its brilliance. He was so eager to get the assignment, he put no thought into what he would do once he was successful.

I wasn't being (merely) facetious when I joked about the adult Johns using the pubescent Johns's notes to script from -- his "innovations" have been mostly silly and serving to answer questions nobody (who isn't a very particular kind of immature fanboy) asks. Who cares how the GL uniform keeps them warm in space or recycles their bodily waste? Why does the GL ring need to serve as the Oan Oracle, allowing writers to dumb down the users the way Batwriters frequently turn their characters into impetus-free order-takers? These are the kinds of things that go in a GL Encyclopedia or a Secret Files and don't become plot points or (more likely) plot distractions in the story itself.

Johns has been at his best when looking at the old Hal, the pre-Parallax, pre-Emerald Allies version. His take on that Hal has been wonderful. It's everything else that's dragging him down. We are now eight issues into the new era and I'm more and more convinced that what Johns should have done is a New Frontier kind of throwback story, a flashback miniseries circa JLA: Year One so we could see more of that interesting Hal without the disappointing results of trying to wedge that Hal into a world in which he no longer has a place as Green Lantern but has got one anyway.

Johns desperately wanted to write Green Lantern because he thought he could show us all why Hal should be our favorite, too. What he's accomplishing is quite the opposite.