Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Shrew Bites: DC

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



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

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



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

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



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

LEGION OF SUPERHEROES #9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shrew Thinks Beyond Funnybooks

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

Here's a proposition:

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


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

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

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

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

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

For more info: Technorati pings for |

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Mirrormask

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



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

Monday, August 29, 2005

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #643

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall: sloppy storytelling overcome by one awesome shouting match.

SMOKE #3

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

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

DAREDEVIL #76

Ah, back to the good stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JACK CROSS #1

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

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

Sunday, August 28, 2005

BATMAN #644

Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 25, 2005

THE RABBI'S CAT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

BATMAN: JOURNEY INTO KNIGHT #1

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

Awkward dialogue
Displeasing Tan Eng Huat art
Did not finish book

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Shrew does Admin


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

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

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

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

HIP FLASK: MYSTERY CITY #1

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

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

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

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

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

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




Monday, August 22, 2005

MANHUNTER #13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEX LUTHOR: MAN OF STEEL #5

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

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



Sunday, August 21, 2005

SMALL GODS #10

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

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


REX LIBRIS #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 19, 2005

GOLEM: OUR SINS OF YESTERYEAR

What Palmiotti & Gray's Monolith both should have been and never could have been.

Alex Lamas takes a turn with the old kabbalist stories of the golem and produces the first part of what I believe is supposed to be (what will hopefully be) a longer story of Gustav Kessler.

Many stories of the golem can be, at their root, superhero stories. The golem is a mystical, spiritual thing, created only by those who not only have the kabbalistic knowledge but also the purity of faith that God will reward by animating the clay they have formed in human image. But once active, a golem is a bit of fantasy fulfillment -- an almost invincible defender of the Jews at a moment in time when there were none, mortal or immortal.

From the angle of a tale of a superpowered savior, what makes this work is that the golem is not a dumb Frankenstein's monster, not a slow-witted, slow-moving freakshow. If anything, he resembles Mister Fantastic as played by Ioan Gruffudd -- a good-looking fellow confused and mystified by his new abilities. His realization of his nature is quick and painful, but his appreciation for his potential is slow and accidental and he swings into action more by instinct than by design, all the time slightly horrified at what he can do.

There is much here that is resonant with elements out of a typical superhero origin story, but while Lamas is restrained with the wholly religious underpinning of the story, he never ignores it. There is no Madonna-ing of the kabbalah here, no sense that anyone could just say the right words over a pile of clay and get a golem the way Brian Azzarello did with John Constantine. There is no hocus-pocus. When the rabbis watch the golem and ask themselves in shamed horror what they have done, they are reminded that they did very little and that God did the important stuff and He presumably knows what He's doing.

The meat of the story is in 1930's Berlin, a time when most Jews (and their friends) realized too late how badly a protector would be needed. Neither Gustav nor his friend Isaac appreciate the danger in time, caught up as they were, as many young intellectuals who came of age in the Wiemar Republic were, in prettier things. So unsuspecting are they that Gustav, disgusted with the Nazi movement, still decides to join the army as an officer, hoping to ride out the coming troubles with a bit of comfort and control. Of course, nothing ever works out so easily.

The contemporary parts of the story work less well. it's a lot of exposition and the less-developed part of the plot -- that the golem has spent the post-War period as a Nazi hunter is presumably the tale for a sequel -- but the rest is worthwhile reading and there will hopefully be another volume so that we can find out what happened to Gustav, Isaac, and their 'sidekick' in the intervening years.

Lamas's art is striking and elegant and the result is a book that looks like it was always meant to be in black-and-white and not only monochrome because it was too expensive to print in color.


I picked this up at MoCCA's June shindig... and am totally failing at coming up with an alternate means of purchase save for going to the website and writing Lamas himself.

Riddle in the Dark is the production company Lamas (who is in the film business), his brother, and an associate have put together. The Golem has a subsite with a preface, a summary (the back cover), some excerpts and an email address. Take a look -- the excerpts and summary give away a bit more of the story than I have coyly tried to avoid divulging -- and if you like what you see, then contact Lamas and see where he's going to be next or if he has plans to market the book.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

CAPTAIN AMERICA #8

That was certainly worth the wait.

The Winter Soldier (not to be confused with the brilliant debut of the similarly-themed The Winter Men) began two issues ago with a bang both literal and figurative. The first was the obliteration of parts of downtown Philadelphia by Alexander Lukin as a means of charging up the cosmic cube and, oh, yeah, causing a bit of terror. However, because nobody would actually miss downtown Philly, the more relevant explosion came with SHIELD agents taking a look at the man behind the chaos and realizing that he looked just like Bucky Barnes. This issue deals with the fallout of that.

Steve Rogers had been having a tough go of it even before he got the news that Bucky may have spent the second half of the twentieth century working for the Soviets to perpetuate the Cold War. Cap's past coming undone by a torrent of released memories, his present is now getting similar treatment. Cut between flashbacks to the dark and fiery combat in Philadelphia, Nick Fury tells Cap and Sharon Carter about the legend of the Winter Soldier, a man who barely seemed to age over the decades as he performed brilliant and brutal acts of war to keep the Soviets in the game. Fury believes that Bucky -- or at least the fellow who looks just like Bucky -- is the Winter Soldier. And that, simply, is unacceptable to Captain America.

The other set of flashbacks for this part of the story take place at the end of World War II on a Soviet submarine immediately after the initial explosion that supposedly killed Bucky. The last page did absolutely nothing to solve the Is It or Isn't It Bucky question, which is precisely how Ed Brubaker intended it.

I went back and forth a bit on Steve Epting's art in this issue -- I really didn't care for the murky darkness of the fight scene, but it was nighttime and limited visibility was a key part of the story. Perhaps it could have been a few panels shorter, but I can't come up with any better alternatives and I'm still a fan of Epting's work on this book. When it came to the glowing red cyclops eyes of the OMAC MODOC troops, though, I had to laugh -- between them and the timing synchronicity of Bucky and Jason Todd, it's like Brubaker is having sympathy pains for Infinite Crisis. (Kidding, kidding. I kid because I love.)

Overall, a strong issue that more than made up for the sly-dog trick of throwing in last month's (quite good) one-shot story of Jack Monroe when all anyone wanted to know was whether Bucky was still alive.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Shrew's Wishlist for 17 August 2005

MAN WITH THE SCREAMING BRAIN #4

AUTHORITY: REVOLUTION #11
BOOKS OF MAGICK: LIFE DURING WARTIME #13
LUCIFER #65
TOP TEN: BEYOND THE FARTHEST PRECINCT #1

BATMAN: JOURNEY INTO KNIGHT #1
DETECTIVE COMICS #810
GREEN LANTERN #3
LEX LUTHOR: MAN OF STEEL #5
MANHUNTER #13

GIRLS #4
SMALL GODS #10

ULTIMATE X-MEN #62

ATOMIKA #4
HIP FLASK: ELEPHANTMEN #1
HIP FLASK: UNNATURAL SELECTION
REX LIBRIS #1

This isn't a to-do list. This isn't my shopping list for Wednesday. This is just me posting the usually-just-to-myself list of stuff coming out this week that I would eventually like to look at in some format. Some will be purchased tomorrow, some will wait for trade paperbacks, some will be wheedled out of other people, and some will fall through the cracks.

Have a bit left on the pile from last week (and the week before and the week before that). Captain America right on top, plus Hawkman, Villains United, and two issues of Rann/Thanagar War. Nightwing was flipped through, but I have nothing kind to say about it. I've also read the Top Ten: the Forty-Niners hardcover already and I have plenty of nice things to say about that one, but want to revisit the original series before I do.

Excluded from the list, of course, are Batgirl and Birds of Prey, which I have already read but are coming out tomorrow and the rest of you should remember to pick up if so inclined.

Monday, August 15, 2005

THE WINTER MEN #1


The Winter Men is part espionage thriller, part political drama, part noir detective story, and part cautionary tale of what happens when superheroes live past society's ability to dream. Kris Kalenov winds up investigating a murder-kidnapping that is messy enough on its own -- black market organ transplants, illegal adoptions, mercenary former special forces troops, the usual sorts of graft and extortion, and the possibility that the missing girl is a super-powered being -- before he gets dragged into a joint investigation with the CIA that will put him undercover. One of the two will end up goading him into action and out of the miserable equilibrium he has found between yearning for survival and self-loathing.




Best of the week, by far. I gave it an A+ for Buzzscope and, well, I'm not normally that generous... actually, I'm never that generous. Go pick this up.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

NIGHT MARY #1

This was a very, very strong first issue... so strong it turned my tummy a bit.

Rick Remender and Kieron Dwyer have put together a lovely, creepy story about a young woman with a gift. Annie Specter can dream lucidly -- she is aware within her dreams -- and, even more, she can enter other people's dreams. But because she uses her abilities in service of her father's clinic, all Mary ever sees are other people's nightmares.

It's not unintentional that Night Mary (get it?) has a monochrome palette during Mary's waking life and is only in full color during dreams. Mary's waking life is all but on hold; her father uses her gift -- abuses it, really -- not so much to serve his patients as to seek a remedy for his catatonic wife by using his patients as honing grounds for Mary. Between her father's demands and the lingering aftereffects of a past case gone horribly wrong, Mary is but a shadow of herself. Her friend Tyler watches with concerned dismay as Mary rebuffs every attempt to fully wake up.

Sharing a few common themes with Wes Dodds from Matt Wagner's spectacular Sandman Mystery Theatre, Mary must decipher the metaphors of the dreamscape into their waking world corresponding parts -- murders, suicides, and other horrors that stain Mary's monochrome world red with blood. Unlike Wes, though, Mary is not sworn to rid the world of evil and she hasn't trained herself to fight it. She's brave, but bravery only goes so far.

Remender's script is quite good for a first issue, only occasionally sounding like it has been visited by the Exposition Fairy and at that very lightly. We get a good grasp of the story and of Mary's two worlds and where future issues may go. Dwyer's art is striking, completely unlike what you may remember from his work on mainstream books like The Avengers, although more similar to his work with Matt Fraction or Steve Niles.

As with all IDW books, this one comes with a bit of sticker shock. But if you've got a sturdy constitution, then $4 is well-spent on this debut.

BIRDS OF PREY #85

Another vision of the future courtesy of the infallible insectivore:
I enjoyed this far more than I have recent issues of Birds of Prey. And not just because this was the issue that seemed to assure me that Chuck Dixon is just a bad dream and we finally got rid of the execrable Brainiac!Babs subplot.

JLA #117

Three parts in to Crisis of Conscience and I'm starting to feel like an insectivore on a hamster wheel -- running over and over the same geography.

This arc is yet another fallout story from Identity Crisis with the same themes of betrayal and distrust and righteously indignant villains attacking our heroes through their civilian identities. I'm getting bored and throwing in Despero and Catwoman doesn't make it all better. It's the same thing we saw in Teen Titans and every IdC tie-in issue that has come out in the last few months.

I'm kinda failing to be bowled over by the whole Despero thing. We've got all this angst and mistrust and sledgehammered-in retcons of ignoble deeds past and it should be all the old JLA's fault... but they're getting off the hook a bit by Despero getting involved. He speaks as though he's just enabling the JLA's eating itself, but sooner or later, they will have Despero to unite against -- sooner if they catch him fighting J'onn -- and their personal problems will become secondary.

Not quite sure what to think of Superman admitting to playing dumb -- he's known for a while what the old League did, but never said anything. That the old crew didn't ever get around to telling Big Blue on their own.... meh. It was understandable, if cowardly, that they didn't tell the Teen Titans, but Superman?

Very sure what to think about the Flash -- Wally speeding around like the fretful child of feuding parents is wearing thin. Especially considering what Geoff Johns did over in Flash with Barry and Hal mind wiping the planet into forgetting who Wally really was.

On the other hand, I do like Chris Batista's artwork in this issue. Pretty and a bit old-school

BATGIRL #67

Oh, this is much more like it.

After a very disappointing start to the Destruction's Daughter arc last month, Andersen Gabrych rebounds nicely with this issue. Cass gets plenty of answers from guest stars Bronze Tiger and the Birds of Prey, but none of them are able to the question she most wants resolved... or, rather, the assumption she is waiting to be disproven: that her mother is Lady Shiva.





No, you didn't forget to pick this up at the shop last week. The Shrew is not only all-knowing and all-seeing and infallible, but she's also got the ability to see into the future.

FABLES #40

It's always the quiet ones.

This was the issue where Boy Blue learns who the Adversary really is -- and if you paid any sort of attention during the March of the Wooden Soldiers arc, then it was really no surprise. The how and the why were exceedingly clever for their subtlety, a modest tale of how little bit of wrongdoing for a greater bit of safety slowly and pervasively turned into a vast conspiracy that in turn slid seamlessly into a empire of terrible power and ruthlessness... that nonetheless is full of happy and mostly prosperous citizenry.

Bill Willingham drew from Roman history, Machiavelli and others to explain the rise of what the Fables have come to know as the Adversary and how that nemesis has maintained power for so long without any serious challenge. Instead of the monstrously big and powerful ruler Blue encountered (and decapitated) last time, Gepetto is a Wizard of Oz-type overlord, well-versed in theories of empire and warfare. He is pragmatic instead of bloodthirsty, comfortable and confident without needing material or emotional affirmation from his subjects, and remorseless in a way that de-emphasizes the inhumanity of what he has become. This is what happens when Jiminy Cricket isn't around.

If Gepetto is working from Gibbon's text, it's easy to imagine that Blue has been reading Sun Tsu. After the past few issues, it's impossible to think that Blue would accept his defeat so readily, even as all of his pillars upon which he has founded his beliefs are knocked aside one by one. The arrival of Red Riding Hood, unharmed and seemingly content, will prove another blow but Blue has come too far to be felled by shattered illusions.

For an issue with very little action and a whole lot of word bubbles, this was splendid.

OUTSIDERS #26-27

The Outsiders kick it old school style courtesy of Peter Tomasi and Will Conrad.

Swap out Anissa Pierce for her dad, sub Rex Mason in for Shift, Batman in for Nightwing, Katana in for Grace, and keep Roy around and remember he's an adult and you've got arguably the most readable two issues of the series. Certainly of the recent issues. Shame when filler issues are the high points.

The story is accessible even if you don't know Katana from a broadsword (or a broad with a sword). Imagine if Identity Crisis hadn't involved rape or retcon or turning semi-forgotten characters into somewhat forgotten supervillains. Instead of a flashback where our heroes are revealed to be ugly and unheroic, we have a flashback where their heroism kept them from crossing the line and choosing expediency over mercy. And instead of a mindwipe, we have the rest of the team trying to get around Batman by simply conveniently forgetting to call him.

This is a story of the original Outsiders and a never-really-forgotten case involving a villain named Fuse, whose ability to turn innocent civilians into living bombs proved quite a menace, but not one deemed worth murdering him to save others. Killing Fuse, who had at least four armed victims remaining at the time of his capture, could probably have been justified as the least-awful choice available -- see Diana's handling of Max Lord over in Wonder Woman (or, less successfully, what happened to Blockbuster over in Nightwing) -- and may still be.

But while Katana is all in favor -- what is it with the women in the DCU being the ones to advocate these sorts of killings? -- the others won the day back when... and are now realizing that their compassion was misguided. Fuse has emerged from his coma and reaching out once more.

The four victims the Outsiders let live have spent the intervening years in constant fear and guilt, aware of their condition and taking extraordinary efforts to prevent its unholy conclusion. A suicide pact was agreed to but never carried out, so after Fuse starts attempting to take control of his erstwhile creations, one of the four decided to take matters into her own hand (that's an intentional singular).

The reformed Outsiders show up after Deborah has killed two of the four and forced the third into losing control and detonating. In the end, they admit their mistake and Katana makes amends in her own fashion. And then Batman shows up, behaving himself but providing Tomasi with just enough rope to trip himself after what was otherwise a very strong and powerful ending.

Nonetheless, this is a recommended mini-arc not for the least to remind Brad Meltzer, Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and regular Outsiders writer Judd Winick that you can use the past in a present context without soiling it.

FERRO CITY #1

Between Ferro City and finally picking up The Nevermen: Streets of Blood, the Shrew does seem to have cornered the market on robot noir this week.

I've been trying to write this review since Wednesday night, but each version ended up sounding like the book was closer to, say, JSA #76 than, well, something I didn't hate but wasn't blown over by.

Ferro City isn't bad, but it could have been a lot better. Jason Armstrong seems to have thought that dragging sentient robots who aspire to humanity into a classic noir story would be a fresh enough concept to anchor the appeal of the story. However, Bladerunner covered this area far more effectively and colorfully and, really, anyone who sat through parts of The Animatrix will feel a little bit of deja vu here.

In this first issue, we've pretty much got the entire basic noir story accessory kit here, minus the dame. Private Detective Cyrus Smithe has a recently deceased partner who left him with a shady case and an assortment of cops and robbers who want to get him. The case involved a trinket called the Medusa Key that, the back cover helpfully informs us, could be the key to liberating the millions-strong robot population of Ferro City.

Considering the role of the Medusa Key itself, the true nature of the robot underclass is a little underdeveloped and falls somewhere between apartheid and appliance. The robots come across as lesser versions of Rosie, the Jetsons' maid. They have the capability of independent thought, but whether they are capable of actually opposing a human being is not clear. Nobody seems to think much of them or their abilities and, combined with the lack of assertiveness or any real personality, their whole 'yearning to be free' movement seems a little ex nihilo. It'd be like manumitting a high-end microwave just because it knows how long to run to defrost your chicken parts.

The humans don't always fare much better. Cops and criminals both are on the wrong side of caricaturish in word and deed and I spent much of the issue wondering if I had totally missed the fact that the story was supposed to be farcical. Then I decided that it read better as a straight story because it wasn't very funny. The backup story, however, was definitely funny. The one-page in-joke house ad for Home Run Pies featuring Savage Dragon was cute.

To sum up: I really wanted to like this, but every read-through of the story had me finding something else I didn't care for. Takeoff of Bladerunner or not, I'd have gone along with the concept -- which certainly has legs when well-presented -- if the dialogue hadn't been so hackneyed or the set pieces quite so worn. I may try the second issue in case this story is just slow getting started, but this wasn't the sort of debut issue that sucks a reader in and doesn't let them go until after the first trade paperback is issued.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Shrew Ponders the First Half of 2005

Buzzscope put together a review of the first half of 2005. Since I got edited down to a single spliced quote, here's my full contribution. I stuck largely to mainstream books because that's where more people will agree or disagree.

Top Five Ongoing
Ex Machina
Legion of Superheroes
Manhunter
Ult FF (Ellis)
Young Avengers

Honorable Mention: Batman (Winick), Y - The Last Man

Ex Machina had me from the very first solicitation, when I saw the theme (NYC politics) and the artist (Tony Harris). It has never let me down and the Tag storyline, interweaving aliens, hot button politics, New York factoids, and sparkling banter along with Harris's beautiful art. Legion and Young Avengers have been joyous, giddy, intelligent stories featuring younger characters that appeal to grown-ups, too. Warren Ellis's run on Ultimate Fantastic Four was a perfect mating of geeky characters (Sue Storm and Reed Richards) with geeky writer and the results were sidesplittingly entertaining and believably about characters too smart for everyone's good who nonetheless never stopped being human beings, too. Manhunter has been the best female-driven action story in DC's catalog, blowing by Birds of Prey and carrying far more prickles than Wonder Woman; Kate Spencer is complicated, flawed, and has the potential to break out if DC can get Marc Andreyko some more exposure.

Honorable Mention to Judd Winick's Family Reunion arc of Batman, no matter what I think of Red Hood, for being an enjoyable and untangled book when the rest of the Batverse's has been largely unimpressive, and Brian Vaughan's Y, for being consistently excellent.



Top Three Minis
Sleeper: Season Two
Lex Luthor: Man of Steel
The Question

Honorable Mention: Ocean, Angeltown

Sleeper, the conclusion of the story Ed Brubaker began with Point Blank, was an unflinching, twisted, and blackly funny look at the game of cops and robbers when played by people with powers. It ended strongly, with neither a whimper or a bang, but with tremendous impact and never felt either rushed or decompressed.

Lex Luthor: Man of Steel and The Question are the extant parts of the scuttled Superstorm project. Both featured stunning art, by Lee Bermejo and Tommy Lee Edwards respectively, and tight, strong stories by Brian Azzarello and Rick Veitch that put some darkness and bottom into Superman's shining Metropolis. Azzarello, who missed the mark when he wrote Batman and whose aim got closer (but not perfect) with Superman, is shooting a bullseye with this look into the heart and mind of Lex Luthor. Veitch's Vic Sage is not the one folks remember from Greg Rucka's Huntress miniseries, but he's fascinating as a shrewd operator who uses his mystic connections as much as he is used by them.

Honorable mention goes to Angeltown, which despite its weakish ending was still a fun and mature urban noir, and Ocean, which is completely derivative but still a fast-paced good time.



Underrated
Batgirl
Detective (Lapham)

Honorable Mention: Books of Magick: Life During Wartime, Rex Mundi, Small Gods, etc.

There are a ton of books that more people should be reading and aren't, but I picked these because they are the Batbooks that dance on the edge of the spotlight. People keep plunking down money for the execrable Robin and the painfully frustating Nightwing (and the pointless Gotham Knights and Legends of the Dark Knight) and getting tempted with countless miniseries and tie-ins to movies and DC Events, and while the critical acclaim has been lauded on Gotham Central, David Lapham's run on 'Tec and Andersen Gabrych's resuscitation of Batgirl have largely flown under the radar. Lapham's story is dark and brooding and loaded with atmosphere, giving us a Gotham that doesn't want to be saved and a Batman who will try anyway. Gabrych, who has been stuck walking behind the Batverse's elephants ever since he started on 'Tec last year, has recently moved over to Batgirl and has given us glimpses of a very intriguing Cass Cain. Both runs deserve far more attention than they have been getting.



Overrated
Green Lantern: Rebirth
Seven Soldiers

Honorable Mention: Superman/Batman

Bringing back characters who have been dead as long as Hal Jordan should mean something and should accomplish more. Rebirth failed on both accounts, bringing back a cryogenically frozen Hal Jordan with his Silver Age larger-than-lifeness, but no hook and no angle into the twenty-first century DCU. Geoff Johns has not impressed.

Seven Soldiers should have been what Warren Ellis did with Apparat -- one writer doing several different genres with different artists resulting in a basketful of diverse styles... but one issue each. The first issues of the various series were largely interesting and intriguing and the art, especially Simone Bianchi (Shining Knight) and Ryan Sook (Zatanna), has been first-rate. But after that, it was all downhill and we've devolved into a mishmash. Except nobody wants to say anything because that would be tantamount to admitting that they're not getting the statement Grant Morrison's trying to make with the series as a whole.

Honorable mention to Superman/Batman because, taking away the fanboy squee of the Absolute Power arc, this has been a completely unnecessary title that nonetheless has managed to dictate DCU storylines and dominate sales charts.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Pop Culture Shock Therapy

Way back in June, I went to the MoCCA convention-type thingie and came away with a stash. I've been behind on reading some of it and certainly in reviewing any of it, so I'm going to make a concerted effort to start getting those done.

Not completely randomly, but close enough, I'm going to start off by pimping Pop Culture Shock Therapy, which is a one panel cartoon project that would remind you of the Far Side if the Far Side were about pop culture.

Nobody is safe from Doug Bratton's pen -- recent subjects have included Gwen Stefani, Star Wars, Osama Bin Laden, and Oscar the Grouch. While the humor can tend toward the perverse (Bratton does seem to have quite the imagination for what goes on in Bert and Ernie's bedroom), it's not mean-spirited. Although you may find it being funny in the groan-worthy way instead of a laugh-out-loud way.

Bratton has archives going back to December 2002, so rather than present you with examples, I'm just going to turn you loose there and let you get lost. You can subscribe to the daily email for free, but if you enjoy PCST then you should absolutely purchase the first collection online from the main page. It's $15 and worth it, especially so you can show it to your friends and pretty much distract them from anything. (Especially when they hit the one about Aquaman's funeral.)

Monday, August 08, 2005

JSA #76

I waffled for a few days deciding whether or not I should discuss this book. Because it pissed me off on many different levels and that was just by skimming it. I couldn't make it through a reading where I actually paid attention to the word bubbles. I should have known better than to try to read anything with Mister Terrific on the cover.

Just out of curiosity, when did JSA stop actually being about the JSA? What we got here was an advertisement for OMAC Project and Villains United all wrapped up in a "plot" that was merely Geoff Johns ripping himself off -- and admitting it. "Remember the last time we were here?" Mister Terrific asks Hawkman. Yes, Michael, I do remember. Pretty much the same thing that happened this time except Johns swapped out the civilians brainwashed into serving as Kobra agents and stuck in civilians transformed into OMACs. And you haven't killed off Sand again. Yet.

The members of the JSA don't have their own adventures anymore -- they are dragged along on everyone else's, used wantonly to fill some other book's plot holes, and graced with endless guest appearances by characters whose arcs get more time than anything the JSA gets to do. Which is usually just look confused or impressed.

Johns has retrofitted the Black Reign arc, which was probably the only decent JSA arc in recent memory, into a prequel for Villains United and dragged JSA along with the ride. (I'd have liked JSA/JSA more if "Continuity Cop" Johns hadn't blithely ignored everyone else's continuity and made up his own.) And this current drivel, a fake redemption of Al Rothstein for crimes never quite made clear -- yes, yes, he did impugn the sovereignty of Kahndaq's old dictator -- and Courtney moping angstily about it while the old fogeys act like old farts, is just a launching pad for the meat of the story. Which is about OMACs and the Secret Society.

The OMACs pretty much clean up on the JSA, which shouldn't be that surprising all considering (it shouldn't have been quite so easy, either). Nor is it especially surprising that Michael Holt, Mr. Terrific, can do what even Batman couldn't do and pretty much defeat the OMACs without lifting a finger. Because he's just that terrific. *gags* I'd love to blame Holt on Johns, but I seem to recall that JM DeMatteis thought him up during the best-forgotten Spectre series John Ostrander can in fact be blamed for the mopey whininess. Johns is only responsible for turning him into a Mary Sue who has degrees in everything and can perform rare surgeries and wins friends instantly while he fights injustice. He's certainly to blame for the trick of Holt being a technological blind spot (and the Swiss army knife-like T-Spheres that come loaded with more options than Batman's utility belt did even when there was Bat-Glacier-Repellent.)

We shouldn't forget the absolutely random and belated pages of Metamorpho and Fire coming to tell Power Girl that Blue Beetle is dead -- I told you nobody bothers to tell the JSA anything -- and the gratuitous reminder that Johns doesn't remember any of the previous times he's written Dr. Mid-Nite trying to examine Power Girl (hint: you flashed back to the first time only last month in JSA Classified). Amanda Waller showing up on the last page doesn't make up for either.

And, finally, in case all of this wasn't enough to convince you that the JSA are the doormats of the DCU, you'll never guess who shows up next issue. Donna Troy and Hal Jordan. (With the flawless Holt and the perfect Jordan both sharing page space, the resulting discussion may crack the internet in half) What either Donna or Hal have to do with the JSA is currently beyond my ken, but I think we're past that being a problem for anyone at the DC offices.



... wow. That was a lot more verbose than planned.

DC SPECIAL: THE RETURN OF DONNA TROY #3

I think this is going to be one of those 'the less said, the better' reviews because, really, I've said it all before. (One and Two)

Lovely art, achingly bad plotting and dialogue, and the bit of me that's still a Roy/Donna 'shipper wasn't distracted enough to forget just how miserable this miniseries is.

No Empathetic Glowing Orb of Travel Joy this time, but we did get to see Donna's new costume -- a combination of her Terry-Era Wonder Girl outfit (in cut) and her last Troia duds (in pattern).

Why am I bothering? Rubbernecking.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

JUSTICE #1

If this had come out a year or so ago, I would have been much more excited about this than I am.

But coming when it does, Justice #1 falls flat in any comparison to the similar Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, where Brian Azzarello's more dynamic and motivated Lex Luthor doesn't need group visions to start planning and where Lee Bermejo's stunning art blows Alex Ross's paintbrushes right off the page.

There is also the obvious similarity to the part of Infinite Crisis that deals with Max Lord and his motivations for warping Checkmate. In general, I like Azzarello's take on the whole man-versus-superman because it is far more complex than Max's more paranoid moustache twirling. Ross seems to be trying to split the difference, but ends up starving like Buridan's ass. He's got the whole Superheroes Have Made Man Lazy/JLA-as-Nanny-Statists that Azzarello is using, but without the sharpness and bite and, ultimately, the relevance. Because unless Lex is pulling a Know Man and keeping a Dr. Destiny-type chained up in Montana so that he can control the dreams, Lex is doing what he's doing to save the world and where's the fun in that?

The story itself... I'm always skeptical of stories that require pages of secret files that retcon characters to explain why they are around, but while the choice of Black Manta as a flunky was obvious, it worked far better than any of BM's other recent appearances.... even if the cynic in me was wondering if Ross had chosen him just because BM didn't get any face time as part of the Secret Society of Supervillains (did they even bother to recruit him?) and he was lying around in the bin of discarded action figures with the one-armed Major Force and the Despero that the dog had chewed on.

A year or so ago and I wouldn't have been quite as annoyed with Ross's 'If it's not Silver Age, it's CRAP' routine, which absolutely isn't news but has graduated from pleasantly retro foible to simply piling on in light of the current zeitgeist. Foible or fetish, I could have certainly done without those clunky expository patches of dialogue. All of this isn't to say that this isn't a pretty piece of art -- some of the undersea panels are luminous -- and some of the narrative prose isn't well-turned. Just that, you know, an homage doesn't have to include the parts that make us laugh at instead of with.

Overall: pretty, but not precious.

PATH TO INFINITE CRISIS: SACRIFICE

SUPERMAN #219
ACTION #829
ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #642
WONDER WOMAN #219

Getting the griping out of the way right at the top because, on the whole, Sacrifice is a kicker of an arc: this would have worked just as well as a three issue storyline. You could have skipped either Superman or Action as they are basically interchangeable -- Supes battling some convenient archenemies in vaguely Silver Age-style hallucinations while everyone else looks confused.

In fact, I think there is an argument to be made that Sacrifice works better without either Superman or Action, for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with either Mark Verheiden or Gail Simone. I skipped the first two issues the first read-through (they're not normally on the schedule and I forgot) and started with Adventures of Superman. Greg Rucka does a two-page recap and the reveal of Superman's assault of Batman registered just fine without two issues of foreboding. I'm sure the last page of Action had impact when read in order, but all of the serious action takes place in AoS and Wonder Woman and I don't think the first two issues of the arc together carry a proportionate weight of the storyline. Although if you skipped Action, you would have missed Simone's J'onn fanservice with the chocos, a pleasantly complex Lois, and the surreal sight of Supes in costume-plus-hoodie. (Thank you, John Byrne.)

AoS works because it relies on an unreliable narrator who we can realistically forget is unreliable, which is easier to do if we haven't been reminded of the fact for two issues. Clark's genuine remorse and guilt fuel his segue into the next delusion without a hiccup. His fears that Max will take advantage and use the rest of the JLA to take him down are perfectly logical and he reacts in kind, strongly and benevolently and making sure he doesn't actually hurt any of his controlled teammates. (And if you can remember Cyclops returning to the X-Mansion where everyone is being manipulated by Mastermind into thinking he's Dark Phoenix, then you can imagine that maybe Supes is the sane one this time.)

Superman's wary dread of the truth of events he doesn't remember, not unlike how we mere mortals feel after a night of too much drinking, is very powerful on its own. Clark's faint hope that this isn't what it looks like, despite all the evidence that it is precisely what it looks like, has an ache of heartbreak. As the scope of his actions is revealed to him (and us), we can almost feel the nausea rise -- as well as the fears of the others.

Where I really started to wibble on the gullibility meter in AoS is in how easily Superman takes out a veteran team and why there seems to be no protocol for dealing with either a rogue Superman or an evil entity of Superman's power class. Clark's genuine goodness has probably encouraged others-not-Batman to be lax about protecting against his turning, but even if we're going to forget all about JLA: Tower of Babel.... meh. Nevertheless, the last page was quite cool (and the accompanying start to WW) because it's comforting to know that Max is still a perv even when he's the bad guy.

[As a semi-aside, I suppose it's just part of the whole Return to the Silver Age that DC is going through that nobody seems to either notice or care that half of the JLA types in this arc aren't actually in the JLA anymore. Silver Age has trumped current continuity for a while now, so the presence of Black Canary and Hawkman, both JLA reservists more recently of the JSA, don't cause anyone to bat an eyebrow. J'onn is permanently there, Wally stands in for Barry-as-peacemaker, and that John is there instead of Hal could be as much a coincidence as a nod to the JLA's current roster. They certainly treat him as unnecessary and useless.]

When it's done right, Diana taking on Superman (JLA: League of One) and Batman (Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia) is so very much more than the tough broad showing her mettle because while Diana's a fantastic fighter, she's not a brawler. I'd love to see her in a fight with Hawkman, but her first instinct is never violence. Rucka played that up -- perhaps a little too far -- with the whole Book o' Pacifism arc last year, but he more than makes up for any overemphasis with this battle royale.

The three-way fight in WW between Diana and Max and Kal is great not for the no-holds-barred violence and for Diana's fantastic demonstration of how to work with what you have when what you have isn't much, but instead because Max spends the entire time goading Diana into doing what he has to know that she will eventually do -- kill him. This version of Max Lord is no fool. He outsmarted Batman and pretty much the entire world, so it's too much of a stretch to believe that he thought Diana would hold back. Diana was trained as a warrior before she became a hero and Max knew that. He knew she'd kill him if there were no other alternative and he is driven enough to be content with a posthumous legacy. Kal witnessing Diana's killing Max will continue Max's plan, even if he isn't around to see it.





(skipping a little space because I'm gonna be talking about Infinite Crisis and while it's only rumor, some of you are sensitive like that.)





Repeating a discussion I had with pals this week (okay, parroting most of it)... Of all of the Infinite Crisis rumors that are floating around, the one I came out of this arc hoping wasn't true was that Diana dies and is replaced as Wonder Woman, presumably by Donna. Before Sacrifice, it was a... not necessarily acceptable, but at least something I could swallow. Diana is the most replaceable of the Big Three -- yes, I've seen the rumors about Bruce starting post-Crisis II in Arkham and Dick returning to the Batman suit -- and DC needs to find a place for Donna now that she's been brought back after that agonizing labor. And yet.

I don't want Diana being punished, literally or karmically, for killing Max Lord. What she did was brutal, but it was a valid combat decision and it says terrible things about the ethical code of the DCU if she must pay with her life for an act that was not a crime.

LEGION OF SUPERHEROES #8

This is the issue where everyone lost their #%^#%$.

And it was fun.

Cos versus Brainy has been a treat to watch for the entire series, a rivalry just this side of open warfare that somehow managed to keep feelings from getting bruised -- goats, anyone? Both young men have their visions of the role of the Legion in the United Planets, with Brainy plotting toward world domination in the name of efficiency and Cos willing to play nicely with others, but up until now they have managed to co-exist by focusing on the overlap and pretending that Brainy wasn't being serious about the world domination thing.

That fragile truce broke last issue with Cos leading the Watergate-esque break-in while Brainy was on Colu and now the consequences are here... with a splatter range of at least a kilometer. By the end of this issue, the Legion is in shambles as Cos's faction (Star Boy, Saturn Girl, Colossal Boy, Lightning Lad) fights Brainy's (Karate Kid, Ultra Boy, Shadow Lass, Element Lad) and everyone is forced to take sides as Legion Headquarters crumbles around them. The fractured team is in no shape to deal with one last body blow -- Cos's home planet of Braal is pulling out of the UP -- and looks to be undermanned as Praetor Lemnos's scheme is revealed to be infesting the Science Police, too. Has Brainy won by default? Stay tuned for the next issue.

Waid continued with the nice touches of fan service -- Element Lad's distaste of pirates, for instance -- but there were a few too many moments of telling-and-not-showing, especially in Cos's rant. Since when has Sun Boy been the field leader? Has Cham ever been shown as bitter, poisonously or otherwise? We haven't seen enough of Jan to paint him as pseudointellectual, either, although I'm willing to grant Waid leeway there. And, truth be told, we have no real evidence that Brainy was planning anything secretive-- I mean, sure, the odds that he wasn't are miniscule, but we've really not seen anything to justify Cos's suspicions finally getting the better of him. Was any of this enough to seriously dull my enjoyment of the issue? No. But Waid has set the bar so very high...

Finally, because Waid is cheerfully using wanton destruction to keep us distracted, what's up with Princess Projectra? Are we headed for a Sensor Girl storyline?


JLA CLASSIFIED #10

Well that was entertaining. In a completely and totally different way than the just-concluded Giffen-DeMatteis arc, but not totally dissimilar to Warren Ellis's recently concluded Ultimate Fantastic Four arc.

I thrill to anyone who can make Lois Lane and Clark Kent seem like two intelligent professionals who married each other for love instead of characters out of some perverse combination of I Love Lucy and The Taming of the Shrew. Ellis delivers, giving us a sharp and sassy Lois without completely emasculating Clark as either man or reporter. The Kents have chemistry, which is an overused word but an underrepresented quality in terms of actually pulling it off without looking like you're trying too hard.

Perry White is fantabulous. I don't care if he has JK Simmons' voice. I want to be so fearsome when I yell at my minions.

The actual plot is enough to keep me curious, too, and not just because it's a Big Three tale that doesn't involve Max Lord or random people turning into killer robots. It's a conspiracy story and Ellis always enjoys writing those. Something's rotten at LexCorp (this is set back in time when Luthor was still President and I have my suspicions why) with the spate of middle-management suicides that Lois and Clark just know is too convenient to be coincidental. Meanwhile, something else is fishy in Gotham, which is also backdated to the happy time when the GCPD wasn't ordered to shoot Batman on sight. Ellis curbed his technogeek-pseudoscience tendencies and left Bruce's detective skills offpanel, but it was an effective presentation.

And, oh, yeah, part of Themyscira, which Ellis cleverly uses as an academic retreat, just got blown up. Paradise Island is looking a lot like Vieques nowadays.

There was lots of fun stuff here, but the downside of this issue was, sadly, the Butch Guice art. When Guice is on, he is very, very good -- Ruse was a sumptuous feast for the eyes -- but when he's off, you start getting what Birds of Prey could look like in a bad month. This issue was definitely in the BoP mold, right down to the awesomely inappropriately dressed Lois -- what professional woman shows up to work wearing a midriff-baring shirt, capris, and a cutesy chapeau and expects to be taken seriously? Elsewhere, Guice ripped himself off by outright copying panels of Barbara Gordon and just coloring her hair black for Lois. (He also homaged the famous Alex Ross image of Bruce Wayne's horribly scarred back and gave Diana ridiculously thin arms, but that's less of a crime.)

Disappointing art aside, this was a solid and very enjoyable start to a new arc.