Thursday, October 27, 2005

LEGION OF SUPER HEROES #11

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

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

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

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

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

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



Monday, October 24, 2005

MANHUNTER #15

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

BATGIRL #69

The best villains don't foam at the mouth.

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

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



Friday, October 21, 2005

GREEN LANTERN CORPS: RECHARGE #2

Formulaic pablum (is that redundant?) for fanboys.

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

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

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

BATMAN #646

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #24

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

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

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

Thursday, October 20, 2005

THE KEEP #1

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

HAWKMAN #45

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

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

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

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

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

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



JLA #120

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

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

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

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

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

EX MACHINA #15

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

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

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

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

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

Overall, a snappy start to a short arc.



Friday, October 14, 2005

INFINITE CRISIS #1

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

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

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

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

That's it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Shrew Does Some More Admin


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

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

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

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

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

POLLY & THE PIRATES #1 (of 6)

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

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