Saturday, June 30, 2007

Legion of Jumping On

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes 31: "The Quest for Cosmic Boy: Prologue" (Bedard & Sharpe).

Confession time. I've never read an issue of Legion of Super-Heroes. I've read of them, sure, but an actual issue of an actual LSH comic? Not that I can remember.


When I was a kid the idea of a bunch of teenagers hanging out in the future didn't really seem all that appealing. Especially compared to the Green Lantern Corps, who were about a thousand times cooler, and when you're a kid (or when I was a kid, at least) everything was a competition and if you put two space books next to one another I was going to buy the cool one. I was mostly a Marvel kid and I only had so much money to spend on DC books. The portion I allotted to DC was never enough to include the LSH and by the time I was older the idea still didn't appeal to me all that much. Plus, by then I was talking to and hearing from Legion fans and they always made it seem like you were either all-in or all-out with the LSH and the last thing I needed was yet another set of several hundred back issues to track down.

But after my Supergirl post several months back where I accused DC of child exploitation, it was suggested I take a look at the Supergirl and the LSH title for a different take on the character. (That suggestion is in the comments section of the post as it appeared back on the old blog.)

Since the cover of S&LSH 31 looked like a convenient jumping on point, I figured it was time to give it a shot.

My reaction?

I'll admit I'm hopelessly lost when it comes to these characters. There seems to be a million of them but since they come off mostly as one-trick-types it's pretty easy to follow over the course of an issue. The plot is fairly simple - Cosmic Boy has disappeared and Supergirl has been voted the new leader of the Legion. No one seems thrilled about this, but they follow her commands, anyway, and nine are sent on three missions to find Cosmic Boy. There's nothing spectacular in characters or plot, but there's nothing disparaging, either.

What's here isn't enough to make me a fan or drive me away. I was pleasantly surprised enough to stick around for a few issues and see what I see.

World War Hulk: A Shellhead, A Bughead, and a Head on Fire

World War Hulk is exceeding demand. This week's offerings: World War Hulk: Front Line 1 and World War Hulk: X-Men 1 have both sold out through Diamond. Marvel has announced they're going back to press on Hulk 106 (3rd print) & 107 (2nd), plus 2nd print runs on many of the books covered below: Ghost Rider 12, Heroes for Hire 11, and Iron Man 19. They're coming with new covers, of course (which you can see at the link above), but they just look to be panels taken from inside the book and slapped on the cover, which is kinda lame but probably cost effective.

Here's this week's rundown of WWH books I've managed to read, so far. (I'll get to the Front Line and X-Men tie-ins later.) If you're not familiar with how the Anxiety is handling World War Hulk, each book is rated based on how well it meets the selling point of the event - that is, how much Hulk-related ass-kicking it contains.

Invincible Iron Man 19 (Gage & Juice).



Iron Man 19 contextualizes the events of World War Hulk 1, giving you the perspective of Iron Man and SHIELD to the reappearance of the Hulk. It's a really strong issue that integrates itself well into the WWH storyline. We don't see the event pushed forward here, but we understand Stark's actions and SHIELD's response to a much higher degree, which enhances the event. Fill-in writer Christos Gage integrates the ongoing Iron Man story and the WWH story together effectively. Instead of this book feeling hijacked by the WWH event, it fits in seamlessly. The battle between the Hulk and Iron Man isn't as explosive here as it was in WWH 1, but Butch Juice's art is strong throughout the issue.

There's a cool double-page spread early in the issue showing various historical Iron Man suits working as a first response team to the cosmic arrival of Hulk's warship, but they're taken out rather easily and quickly. I was hoping to see a bit more of a space battle, and I don't think the book would have been hurt by having this be the issue's dominant battle instead of another take on the battle from WWH 1, but that's a small complaint in an excellent issue.


Heroes for Hire 11: "World War Hulk, Part 1: Infestation" (Wells & Mann).



I have nothing against humorous superhero titles - I like my Spider-Man (mostly) humorous, I loved the classic Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League, I dig the Great Lakes Avengers (or whatever they're calling themselves these days) - but I don't think Heroes for Hire has the right cast to pull it off. When I think funny, I don't think of Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, Black Cat, Tarantula, and Shang-Chi. Humbug, sure. (At least pre-Savage Land Humbug.) Yet the latest HfH series has been infused with a silliness, or lack-of-seriousness, that hasn't really played. It's been more surface-oriented stories and though I've read most of the issues of this series (I dropped out a couple issues before Zeb Wells took over) I don't really feel like I know these characters all that much better.

Zeb Wells is definitely an improvement over the previous writers, however, and even if I'm not getting the kinds of stories I'd prefer to read with this group (which would be a mix of high-flying kung-fu and espionage instead of wacky assignments), Wells makes it fun to stick around and delivers more of the character building I'd like to see. Since Wells took over this is a good book, just not the book I'd prefer.

Tying books like Heroes for Hire and Ghost Rider into World War Hulk is a smart move because it gives the lower-selling books a chance to suck in some fans and show them what the book is like. I'd be surprised if HfH doesn't see their numbers raise after their time with WWH is done. Wells dialogue is sharp and his pacing smart. There's a lot of characters in this book, though, and none of them really step out front to take over, so we're left with a lot of Aaron Spelling soap storytelling, with quick hits of the various plots and a bit too much recap.

For a tie-in to WWH, Wells spends a bit too much time cleaning up after last issue, when the team extracted Moon Boy from his habitat with Devil Dinosaur in order to bring him back to a SHIELD science lab. They arrive in NYC to find that the Hulk has come back to Earth and everyone is clearing out of Manhattan. SHIELD enlists HfH for a "freebie" to save the day and the team ends up running into the colonizing efforts of Miek and Brood. Brood is pumping babies like mad and the new attuned-to-the-world-of-bugs Humbug is drawn to the baby pumping. After Black Cat tries to make nice with one of the little drones because he's sooooooo cute, Humbug pops its head off, then rips the body apart, splattering the team with buggy ooziness (and giving Clay Mann a chance to gratuitously show that ooze all over Misty and Colleen's breasts) which he claims will shield them from the bugs detecting them.

Humbug points to the mother ship, intimates that's where they're headed, and ... that's it for this issue. (There's a back-up featuring Scorpion and Paladin about what they're doing when all this is going on.) A good issue taken as it is, but for a tie-in it's all set-up. It's a lot better than the Ghost Rider next tie-in issue, however.


Ghost Rider 12: "Apocalypse Soon, Part One" (Way & Saltares).



Yeah, if you're looking for any part of the cool Ghost Rider vs. Hulk throwdown promised on teh cover, you'll have to come back next issue. This is a Ghost Rider issue with a Hulk appearance tossed in at the end, so if you're buying this just for the Hulk, don't bother. Marvel could've still delivered a kick-ass issue, using WWH to promote Ghost Rider, but they treated it like a jumping-on issue, instead. The story is painfully slow and we see some Ghost Rider vs. Lucifer action, but since Lucifer is in the body of a pilot, well, there's a reason the cover depicted GR vs. HULK and not GR vs. AIRLINE PILOT!

Two good books and a disappointment. As promised above, I'll hit World War Hulk: Front Line 1 and World War Hulk: X-Men 1 a little later on.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Iron Fist is Still the Coolest

Immortal Iron Fist 6: "The Last Iron Fist Story, Part Six" (Brubaker/Fraction & Aja/Heath).

I bought a lot of Power Man and Iron Fist back issues back in the day for two reasons: because they could be had cheap and because, well, that's it, really. They were cheap. I always liked Cage and Fist, though, even if I wasn't a huge fan of their book. I always thought they were a lot cooler than the book portrayed them, and Iron Fist was always at the top of my list of characters that I wanted to see in the Avengers.

I was never big on adding Spider-Man or Wolverine, but my fanboy head spun into overdrive at the possibility of adding Iron Fist or Cage or Jack of Hearts or Ka-Zar to Earth's Mightiest.

Fist's treatment has never really improved over the years. While Cage was getting elevated under Bendis' pen, Danny just sorta sat out there, unused. He'd get pulled out every now and then to do the rich-guy-who-kicks thing but it was serviceable, unspectacular work.

Until now.

Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction have managed to deliver a story that blends K'un-Lun mysticism and street-level grittiness to spectacular effect. I love this book. Bru & Fraction have crafted a deep backstory of the Iron Fist, connecting Danny Rand to an historical web of mystical and political intrigue.

In IIF 6 the opening storyline comes to its conclusion as Danny and the previous Iron Fist, Orson Rand, face off against the Steel Serpent and a whole bunch of Hydra agents. Bru & Fraction have Danny walk us through the story in calm first-person narration that counters the frantic artistic action to great effect.

They also revel in the vintage 70's kung-fu-ness of Fist and K'un-Lun, and because they treat Danny seriously it comes off as cool and worthy of respect instead of goofy or awkward or out-dated. In the hands of someone like Quentin Tarantino all of this would come off as cool cheese, but here it's played mostly straight, which is the right move. Some of the dialogue spoken by Cage, Misty Knight, and Colleen Wing in issue 6 is trying a little too hard to be a little too stylish, but it provides a nice counter to Danny's calm rationality. It was almost like Iron Fist found himself in the middle of a Daredevil story and Cage, Misty, and Colleen were living in Smokin' Aces.

After Orson has died and transfered his power to Danny and the Steel Serpent has bugged out, Lei Kung the Thunderer and Yu-Ti, the August Personage in Jade (see wha I mean about 70's kung-fu-coolness?) show up and whisk Danny away to the Tournament of Heavenly Cities. I was wondering a bit why Cage, Misty, and Colleen were in the issue - not that it wasn't great to see them, but it seemed odd to include them in a story that seemed designed to build a Fist-centric background for the series. When Danny leaves them behind to attend the Tournament, however, it makes sense. Bru & Fraction acknowledge Danny's ties but then break him away from that support group to delve even deeper into all that goes into being the Iron Fist in the next arc.

A great issue and a great opening arc. Immortal Iron Fist isn't as good as Bru's Captain America, but it is my second favorite Marvel book at the moment, and the coolest superhero comic on the shelves.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Do The Thunderbolts Have to Punch People?

Thunderbolts 115: "Faith in Monsters, Part Six" (Ellis & Deodato).

As we saw earlier this month in Brian Michael Bendis' New Avengers 31, no matter what kind of psychological-conspiratorial-mysterious drama you get cooking, if it's a superhero comic you've got to occasionally let the good guys get their punch on.

Enter Thunderbolts 115, a mostly boring, paint-by-numbers action romp that reveals Songbird and Radioactive Man as traitors (which ain't a bad thing to be with this crew) and finishes with a paralyzed Bullseye (which links this issue with New Avengers 31 in suckling from the homage teat of Frank Miller).

It's a superhero comic, so apparently there has to be punching, but this book is so much better without it. The strength of Ellis' six-issue run has been the machinations and examinations and not the field missions. Ending with an action climax is a mistake because that's not what the book is about. It'd be like reading a n Edith Wharton novel only to have Die Hard break out in the last fifty pages.

Well, okay, that's an exaggeration, but the point is if you sell something hard for 5/6 of a story and then deliver something else at the finish it can leave a bad taste in the mouths of readers and that's what happened here with me.

As much as I enjoyed the focus on Steel Spider, American Eagle, and Sepulchre leading up to this issue, and as much as I knew (and was looking forward to) their fight with the TBolts, I'd have preferred a bit more time with them post-battle. I was more interested in seeing Sepulchre and American Eagle's post-battle rendezvous then their actions in the fight. It's not that I dislike fighting; it's that fighting isn't what this book does best.

At least Songbird and Radioactive Man's actions will add more drama to the Osborn Stew that is Thunderbolts Mountain. Songbird is responsible for the death of the two men Bullseye killed and I hope that's not a point just swept aside. Thunderbolts is at its best under Ellis' pen when the psychological machinations are up front and issue 115 had very little of the mental chess game on display.

In total, "Faith in Monsters" was an uneven opening arc that had more good than bad until the final issue.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

World War Hulk: "I Didn't Come Here for a Whisper"

The opening rounds of Marvel's big summer 2007 event, World War Hulk, are now on the shelves. What's nice about WWH is that this is a storyline that's been brewing for well over a year. Marvel cleverly set this up even before Civil War took the MU over, as Tony Stark, Dr. Strange, Black Bolt, and Reed Richards (the Illuminati, minus Charles Xavier and Namor) conspired to send the Hulk hurtling into the far reaches of the galaxy. It was a jerk move that resulted in the solid Planet Hulk storyline, but now the Hulk is back on Earth, looking for revenge.

What's nice is that this event is set up to be a big, all-out, action-packed throwdown between the Hulk and pretty much everyone else. It's a nice change of pace from the seriousness of Civil War; Marvel has built-in a strong enough back-story to give WWH just the right amount of plot justification. The Hulk's got an ax to grind and a bit of moral high-ground to stand on, which is really all we need. The selling point here is the destruction, the chance to see the Hulk cut loose, and that's what my posts here about the World War Hulk event are going to focus on.

World War Hulk 1 (of 5) (Pak & JRJR).



Here's all you really need to know: the Hulk beats the face off of Black Bolt, then tears up Manhattan in a classic Hulk v. Iron Man (in Hulkbuster armor) brawl. The Hulk is now an amalgamation of Intelligent Hulk and Smash! Hulk; he's Gladiator Hulk now, with all that entails (the brains, the experience, the viciousness). He thinks like a soldier and fights like a monster. Hulk doesn't just physically engage his targets, either. He wants the world to know why he's doing what he's doing, broadcasting to the world why the Illuminati blasted him into the far reaches of space. It's a powerful PR move, and even among Stark's biggest on-the-ground supporters in the Marvel Universe there has to be some concern about Stark's unchecked power.

We get to see the Hulk standing at the front of his starship, we get to see the Hulk tear across the moon in his battle with Black Bolt, and we get to see the Hulk and Iron Man treat Manhattan like their personal fighting ring, including an awesome sequence when they sever Avengers Tower in half with the Sentry's freaky penthouse thing. And here, unlike during Civil War, Manhattan is evacuated prior to the brawl so there's as little guilt as possible on anyone's part.

If you like John Romita Jr.'s art and you like watching the Hulk fight people, buy this issue. This is far from JRJR's best work, but it works here, where subtlety is not required. World War Hulk 1 is truly the comic equivalent of a summer action blockbuster. Lot of wham-bam and just enough brains to keep you from being insulted. A big, fun comic.

Incredible Hulk 107: "Warbound, Part II" (Pak & Frank).



Incredible Hulk is apparently going to be the thinking segment of WWH, as Greg Pak focuses on Amadeus Cho's attempt to stop the Hulk from engaging in the world in battle. Cho wants to save the Hulk - from the world and from himself - and gathers a small support squad in two former Champions' teammates (Hercules and Angel) and Namora, after Namor blows him off. There's not a lot of action here, more like mini-skirmishes breaking out around the main action. It's a strong issue, though those looking for more of the main mini-series' brand of rampant destruction won't find it here. The Herc v. Hulk battle (rendered beautifully by Gary Frank) provides only a few pages of punch-throwing before Herc simply stops cold, letting the Hulk batter him bloody in an attempt to prove his loyalty to the Hulk's cause.

Cho provides the right mix of humor and empathy as he drives the plot forward. Pak keeps working in the idea that Cho is the seventh smartest person in the world, but he's also a kid, which blends a potentially dangerous portion of naiveté into his actions. He's smart enough to steal $1.2 billion from Warren Worthington's bank account a week before the government freezes his accounts, but naive enough to use $100 million of it to buy the land around the army base where the Hulk originated in an attempt to, as Angel derides, "build a wildlife park for the Hulk?"

It will be interesting to see how Cho's continued insistence that he can stop the Hulk because he'll help the Hulk plays out. It's already cost Hercules a major (though, admittedly, partially self-induced) ass-kicking, and with four months of this storyline to go, I'm guessing it's not the last time Cho's plan is frustrated.

Good comic. If you're only going to buy one of the WWH-related tie-ins, the action in the regular Hulk title might prove to be the best buy when it's all said and done.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Endangered Species: The X-Men Hijack a Funeral

X-Men: Endangered Species One-Shot (Carey & Eaton).

Here's what's unique about the latest Mega-X Crossover Event: there's not supposed to be a lot of fighting and it's taking place over 17 chapters as back-up stories in your regular monthly X-Men-related comics. I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing that Marvel is relegating Endangered Species to back-up status. Depends on how you look at it, I suppose - not hijacking the main plot in the regular books is a good thing, but if all you're interested in is the Endangered Species story then you're forced to buy a book you might not want to buy just for an 8-page back-up feature.

Marvel kicks off the crossover with the Endangered Species one-shot, a full-issue story focusing on the funeral of one of the 198 remaining mutants. That the death is an "unknown," a kid not affiliated with the Xavier Academy nor killed in a mutant-related attack (he was hit by a car), is supposed to add to the sense of loss. (Supposed to.) With so few mutants left, the death of any one of them, even one of the few not running around in leather and spandex, hits them all hard.

One of the problems, however, is that the X-Men don't exactly come across as sympathetic this issue. When Cyclops and Emma Frost express their condolences to the kid's parents, the father flips out at them. Instead of the usual anti-mutant hate-speech spewed by parents in these situations, Mr. Landru's point is that the X-Men are really just here to pay their respects to their own dwindling numbers. It's a powerful point; the truth is, the father is right, and it makes the X-Men come off as disrespectful, at best, and incredibly self-centered, at worst. It would be one thing if the X-Men had sent a representative from Xavier's Academy (say, Scott, Emma, and perhaps Charles), but they send a huge contingent: Cyke, Emma, Logan, Cannonball, Nightcrawler, Charles, Beast, Bishop, Rahne, Mercury, etc. Forget about mutant/non-mutant political issues, how about the x-folk show a little bit of class and not overrun the kid's friends and family at his own funeral?

At least Sebastian Shaw had the decency to show up alone and in disguise.

The X-Men look bad throughout the issue and I can only hope that event-writer Mike Carey is doing this on purpose to help the X-Men transition from where they are to a more positive, less-insulated future.

When Charles confronts Shaw after the funeral, it's Shaw who comes off as the one most effected by the death of the Landru boy. Not that we should take Shaw at face value (because he's Sebastian Shaw) but it's Xavier who's brought an entire contingent to the funeral, not Shaw. It's Xavier who's searching around other people's thoughts, not Shaw. It's Xavier who angrily confronts Shaw after the funeral, and the other way around. And, finally, it's Shaw who delivers the issue's most powerful line, when he says: "Face it Charles. We were supposed to be the clever ones. The visionaries. You. Me. Eric. And all we've ever done is to fight each other until our knuckles bled."

As a result of all that, it's Shaw who seems the most effected by the kid's death, not Charles. An yeah, maybe Shaw is acting, but Charles isn't and Charles looks bad whether Shaw is there or not.

There is a sense of depression that runs through the issue that proves Mr. Landru's point that the X-Men are there more for themselves than the dead child. Cannonball harshly questions Bishop over why Bishop never told them the diminished numbers were coming. Mercury wishes the Landru child was alive so she could punch him for dying in an accident. Wolverine gets lost in his own haunted memories, then has a depressing heart-to-heart with Scott. It all comes off distasteful to me; this is not a funeral the X-Men would have gone to en-masse back before M-Day and for them to go now puts themselves at the center of a story (the death of a kid) they have little involvement in.

Except that the kid is a mutant and mutant numbers are way down and the X-Men feel the crunch of having one less "species member" like themselves running around.

Carey could have accomplished all of this from Xavier's Academy. He could have very easily sent Scott and Emma to the funeral and left everyone else back at the school to work through these emotions. It would have carried the same weight and not of the tackiness.

I'm interested in reading Endangered Species because the event is going to focus on the Beast. If it weren't for that, there's nothing in the one-shot that would draw me in. While I leave the issue sympathetic to the plight of the dwindling number of mutants, I don't leave it feeling sympathetic to the X-Men, who come across as funeral crashers.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Justice League of Good Endings

Justice League of America 10: "The Lightning Saga, Final Chapter" (Meltzer & Benes).

I've been holding off posting this until the weekend to give everyone a chance to read Justice League of America 10, not wanting to spoil the ending. Time's up.

Wally West is back.

Serving as an unconnected companion to Flash: Fastest Man Alive 13, where Bart Allen gets physically beaten off this mortal coil, Wally, Linda and the kids return in JLA 10, an expertly written issue by Brad Meltzer that proves even if you know what's coming you can still enjoy the ride getting there.

Meltzer does his best job on JLA, yet, and shows that he can do more than just set up interesting stories - he can bring them home, too. In previous issues Meltzer has made sure to include plenty of small character bits, but here it's all story at the forefront. You can feel the momentum building; Meltzer adroitly jumps from character to character but it's always the story that rides out front, pushing, pushing towards Wally's inevitable return.

Or is it Wally's return?

Meltzer includes a dual-narrative in the middle of the book, with Batman and Hal Jordan having flashbacks of being exactly where they are now in earlier years and both of those scenes are of Barry, not Wally. Combine this with the final, last panel twist of Braniac 5 telling the LSH that all he cares about is that "we got who we wanted," as one of their lightning rods glows red and we see a nondescript face seemingly trapped inside, and Justice League 10 not only delivers the goods but sets up stories for other writers to pick up across the DC Universe.

The Legion, apparently, were after Barry; Wally's return is a happy accident. Wally was "riding the lightning," hanging on to life and used this as an opportunity to bring himself and his family back to this life.

I stand by my criticism of DC's decision to dump Guggenheim from Flash, and my continued statements here that DC cannot simply keep going back to the past in an attempt to move their universe forward. I think dumping Guggenheim was a mistake and I think a retro-strategy is doomed to feed on itself. In the end, however, all I want out of my comics are good stories and Justice League of America 10 is a darn good story. Meltzer succeeds, in part, because he's not just putting things back but pushing them forward, as well, by keeping the mystery of the Legion's true intentions and goals a mystery.

Meltzer's double-retro move worked. It's one thing to bring characters back, however, and another to do interesting things with them. That will be up to Mark Waid more than anyone, but Wally will have a role to play in the Justice League, as well. Meltzer only has two more issues on his run, so it will be interesting to see what kind of role, if any, Wally plays here the next two months.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Nova 3 Did Not Make Up My Mind

Nova 3: "Home Truths" (Abnett/Lanning & Chen).

I really did not like Nova 1.

I really did like Nova 2. Silly of me to hope, perhaps, that Nova 3 would settle my mind one way or the other about committing to this title, but that's what I did.

To that end, then, Nova 3 was a failure.

As a comic, though, it sorta splits the difference; the first-half, featuring Nova vs. the Thunderbolts, wasn't very good, but the second-half, featuring some the emotional conflicts of Rich's conversations with Tony Stark, his parents, and Robbie Baldwin/Penance, was excellent. Halfway through the issue I thought I was done; by the end I was back in.

The ubiquitous Tony Stark shows up to continue to sell Nova on the idea of joining the Initiative, offering both an emotional (working with Justice, again) and a practical (rebuilding the Nova Corps from Earth) argument. Rich is tempted, but eventually declines for a wide variety of reasons having to do with the difference in Earth post-Civil War.

Abnett and Lanning do a good job situating Nova in between Civil War/The Initiative and Annihilation without making it seem like they're doing it just to draw in readers. If Nova is going to come back to Earth at this time these are the issues he's going to face and A&L handle them deftly.

The conversation with Robbie is what finally pushes Rich to leaving; as Penance Robbie is not the guy Rich knew and while it would've been nice to see Rich offer to help Robbie - maybe by taking him off-Earth where he'd have a chance to find redemption without the government controlling him - the almost religious plea that Robbie makes to Rich about joining the Initiative illustrates Robbie's unhinged state of mind even more than his costume.

Rich's argument with his parents should have worked better; the juxtaposition of the situation Rich finds himself in (from a galactic war to being lectured by his parents) is a strong one, but A&L make the parents too stereotypical for it to have any real impact.

What do you do with a comic like this that offers as much good as it does bad? I really dislike half of what we've read so far, but I really like the other half. Usually these books end up disappointing. After you've bought 8 or 10 or 12 issues you finally reach the breaking point and look at your stack in a very dissatisfied, "how much can I get for these on eBay" kinda way.

For now, through Annihilation: Conquest, I suppose, I'm cautiously on board.

Captain America 27: Hunting the Most Visible Man in America

Captain America 27: "The Death of the Dream, Part Three" (Brubaker & Epting/Perkins).

One of the most impressive tricks in Ed Brubaker's considerable bag is the way he can almost instantly take any character and make them feel at home inside Captain America. It begins by selecting the right characters, but it's more than that. Brubaker has a keen ability to boil down characters to whatever particular essence works in the book at hand. In Captain America 27, Bru seamlessly blends Tony Stark and the Black Widow into the cast as Bucky begins his quest to kill Tony Stark.

While Bru gives a nod to Stark's immense responsibilities at the moment, he keeps Stark's narrative focused in on Cap's shield. Bucky wants to steal Cap's shield in order to guarantee that no one else will ever wield it, because even though Stark says publicly no one will do so, Bucky doesn't believe him: "Sure, they'll wait a year or two ... then they'll say the public is crying for a new Captain America. [...] As long as they have Steve's shield, they won't just be able to let it sit on a shelf. Not for long."

So Bucky goes after the shield, eventually discovering that Stark has trusted the Black Widow with delivering it from one secret, secure location to another. The fight between Bucky and Natalia is interspersed with a romantic history between the two from Natalia's pre-Black Widow days. Bru's Widow here is not the coldly professional Widow we typically see, as was in evidence in Mighty Avengers 3, and her encounter with Bucky brings her back to her pre-married, pre-Widow training days in the Soviet Union where Bucky was one of her trainers.

Smartly, Bru has Bucky refer to her as "Natalia," and Stark as "Natasha," her identities when each man knew her. It's a little thing, but it's the right thing and it helps open up the character to the uncharacteristic vulnerability she displays in the issue.

Bucky gets the shield but while he goes after Stark, the always present but never seen Nick Fury sends Falcon and Sharon Carter after him. Sharon is taking the death of Steve hard, especially given the images of Dr. Faustus popping into her head that taunt her with the knowledge that she actually killed Captain America (which I still don't believe). When Sam arrives and tells her what Fury wants them to do, she agrees. Without Steve, without SHIELD, wracked with guilt, Sharon is looking for a purpose and Fury provides one for her.

Bucky hunts Stark. Stark hunts Bucky. Falcon and Sharon hunt Bucky. Fury hunts Bucky. And they're all still hunting the ghost of Steve Rogers.

It's a solid issue, smart and engaging with plenty of political intrigue and twists to keep you involved. Captain America, even without Captain America, is still the best ongoing comic on the shelves right now.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Flash: All Good Things, Apparently, Are in the Past


Flash: The Fastest Man Alive 13: "Full Throttle: Conclusion" (Guggenheim & Daniel).

There's not much to say about the events of Flash: FMA 13 except that, once again, DC's answer to correcting a mistake is to look backwards and not forwards. With the ending of FMA 13 and the death of Bart Allen, DC is handing the keys to the off-the-rails Flash franchise back over to Mark Waid.

Of course.

Whether we're getting the return of Wally West or Barry Allen, what seems likely is that we're not going to get someone new in the suit. Maybe we will, but recent DC history suggests otherwise. If anything is broken at DC, the answer is "retro." It seems likely that we'll see the return of Wally, given that DC is "relaunching" The Flash with All-Flash 1 and then following that with a new Flash monthly that reverts back to the pre-One Year Later numbering (Flash 231 will be the first issue) where Wally was the primary star and the other Flashes appeared quite regularly.

I don't object to DC making a change with the Flash. The current title pre-Marc Guggenheim was a god-awful, truly horrible, horrible comic. For starters, Wally had not run his course as a character and secondly, the idea of Bart Allen being promoted from Impulse to Flash was actually sound ... until they put him through the whole lame artificial aging process and turning him into a dour, miserable twentysomething.

When DC gave the title over to Marc Guggenheim a few issues back, things improved. Reading FMA 13, the problem clearly isn't with the character itself, but with the concept of a miserable Bart Allen and, most importantly, the bad writing of the previous regime (Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo).

I'm sorry to see Guggenheim get booted, but DC is in such a rut right now that the inevitable solution to bring back Waid was something we should've seen coming. Guggenheim is a very good writer, but he keeps getting bounced for "name" writers: Loeb on Wolverine, now Waid here. The result with Wolverine was that Guggenheim's strong run has been replaced by mindless drivel.

As much as I disliked the overall direction of the Flash franchise, none of that was Guggenheim's fault and I would have liked to see how he pulled the franchise back to solid ground.

Guggenheim deserves a long run on a title and I hope he gets it soon.

Moon Knight's Brutality

Moon Knight 11: "Midnight Sun, Chapter Five: One Son Lost" (Huston & Suayan).

I really like the latest Moon Knight series but it's not a fun read.

Charlie Huston's basic take on the character is that he's a seriously messed up loser, both psychologically and physically, and the basic plot premise is designed around seeing how much punishment Moon Knight can take.

And it's good - the writing is typicallly sparse but pointed, and the art is dark and in your face. Frank D'Armata's colors lean more towards a realistic, painted approach than the typical comic book and it fits the tone well because I think that's the overall point of this series - being a superhero is real and it messes you up if you're not prepared to deal with it.

Marc Spector isn't the only one suffering here. Huston casts the net of brutality wide, showing how past associates of Moon Knight have suffered because of him. There are those who show a greater sign of physical suffering (Frenchie) or emotional suffering (Marlene), but no one who's had any real contact with Moon Knight comes out unscathed.

The difference between Marc and those formerly closest to him is that they were able to move on with their lives while Spector wallowed in self-pity and self-medication.

Then there are those who get totally obliterated by having had an association with Moon Knight. The current "Midnight Sun" arc focuses on the comeback of former sidekick Midnight, who is the son of former MK villain the Midnight Man, who now wants to be Moon Knight's greatest nemesis or some other similar delusion and he sets about achieving this by being a sick, twisted torturer. At the end of issue 11 he's set to carve up Moon Knight's spine.

Huston has done a really good job in this series, but he's on the verge of stepping over a line. You can be dark-n-dirty or grim-n-gritty or just generally abuse your hero and be fine so long as there's a story-driven reason for that darkness being there. Through the first ten issues I never felt like the brutality (either physical or emotional) existed just to exist; it was always born out of the story or to illustrate a deeper truth about a character. In issue 11, however, the brutality felt less like it was there to show us something and more to exist just make us squeamish.

Maybe that's the point. Maybe Huston wants us to know that in the costumed world complete psychopaths like Midnight would exist and they would do horrible, horrible things to people out of some grandiose sense of purpose or revenge or spitefulness or just because sometimes there are messed up people who do messed up things and we can't explain their behavior away.

We just need to stop it. And Moon Knight, for good or bad, is the one down in the trenches doing just that.

Overall, I really like this series. I'm not looking for Moon Knight to lighten up, but I don't want it to turn into a snuff film, either.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Amazing Spider-Man 541: You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry

Amazing Spider-Man 541: "Back in Back, Part 3 (of 5)" (JMS & Garney).

The entire return of the black costume was designed, of course, to tie into the release of Spider-Man 3. Comic companies do this all the time and I think it's stupid, though I'm sure (absolutely positive) they have marketing research (official numbers and stuff) that shows that putting Spider-Man back in black in the comics does a better job increasing sales than not doing it. They must know that people who wander into a comics shop or look at Amazing Spider-Man on the comic rack in a bookstore and see him wearing red-and-blue and not black-and-white are either so confused or disheartened that they don't buy what they went into the store to buy.

It does make me wonder why the Free Comic Book Day Spider-Man book didn't have Spidey wearing the black-and-white, though ...

The black is back and Marvel has cleverly tied its return into the end of the Civil War storyline. By having Spider-Man's civilian identity outed his family is at risk and the Kingpin hires someone to take Peter out, but ends up shooting Aunt May instead, sending Peter on a rampage.

JMS seems to be taking an anger at Peter's revealed identity out in this storyline. Of all Marvel's writers JMS was hardest on Tony Stark before and during Civil War, and it's not too much of a stretch to think that behind this storyline in JMS' head somewhere is the idea, "You wanted Peter's identity known to the public? Here's what that means."

It means the Kingpin comes after you.

Kingpin is finely suited for JMS because when Wilson Fisk talks he's taken the time to craft his words carefully to achieve the highest possible effect.

Peter's anger explodes throughout this arc. Here, he pulls the man who shot the man who shot May down into the sewer and lets him know Spider-Man is not going to take kindly to people going after his family. It's not "heroic" in the traditional sense and it certainly offers a darker Spidey than I'd prefer seeing, but life isn't always sunshine and lollipops. Everyone has a breaking point and that's what JMS is exploring here. Fisk has pushed Peter past established boundaries. and right now is the perfect time for this story. Not because of the movie tie-in (and what a piece of garbage that movie was, in case you forgot), but because so much has come right after the other: joining the Avengers and getting a real support system and safety from living in Avengers Tower, then having it all taken away through Civil War, being an outlaw, May getting shot ... it's all too much, too close together.

I think Peter's also being driven by the possibility of what's coming: being a target of both sides of the law, Stark on the legal and his rogues on the illegal. There's not much room for him to operate and there will be less. He needs to carve out space to balance out what he loses. That's what he attempts to do in 541.

Looking forward to next issue's Spidey v. Kingpin throwdown.

Countdown 45: Momentum Weaving

Countdown 45: "Monitor Duty" (Dini & Palmiotti/Gray and Calafiore).

Sometimes we get what we want. One of my biggest complaints about Countdown and its predecessor, 52, was that momentum was not sustained because the writers got lost in all of these different sub-plots they were running out there. Countdown 45 is a perfect example of how these universe-wide weeklies can be most effectively arranged.

There are two sub-plots that dominate the issue: Jimmy Olsen's investigation and the continuing rift with the Monitors. Dini & Co. integrate Jimmy's investigation with the Holly Robinson plot, and use the appearance of the Monitor's "weapon," Forerunner to tie in with the ongoing Jason Todd/Donna Troy plot. It presents a much more focused issue and works better than stringing plots along separately. With 52, you never really knew what you were going to get and it was painful waiting for separate plots to come together (as they did with the Black Adam and Question plots to great effect).

52 rarely felt like a story but Countdown does, especially in an issue like 45.

Jimmy tries to piece together all of the events he's witnessed, from his the blips of power to Lightray's death, and what I like about it is that we see him figuring it out as he goes. It's both a cleaver way for Dini & infodump/recap previous issues, and also provides a means of showing character growth.

About his powers - I'm starting to wonder if maybe Jimmy isn't somehow channeling the powers of dead superheroes. He mentions that he's had the powers of Plastic Man and Flash, but maybe it's not Plastic Man but Elongated Man. Perhaps Jimmy is some kind of conduit between planes of existence.

The most time is given to Forerunner and the Monitors. Forerunner is another one of these impossibly powerful cosmic characters with deep personal issues. She's content to act as the Monitors' weapon, killing whomever they order her to kill, but when Good Monitor (please, DC, give us an easier way to tell these characters apart) stops her from killing Donna and Jason, he removes that purpose. Her primary reaction to this is that she wonders why the Monitor didn't trust her, meaning that she's content to base her self-identity on what others choose for her to do, but left alone to think for herself is troubling. She's an interesting character and I hope she continues to weave her way through this series (which seems likely given the final page).

A strong issue of Countdown.

Monday, June 18, 2007

New Avengers 31: ACTION!

New Avengers 31: "Revolution, Part 5" (Bendis & Yu).

After four issues of mostly stagnated or frustrated action, Bendis lets Leinil Yu cut loose this issue and we get a book 95% full of Avengers vs. Ninjas. I can't help but think these must be nearly impossible books for Bendis to write. He's not a Claremont, who often (especially at the initial waning of his run as the #1 writer in comics) seemed to take particular delight in putting as many words on the page as possible, choking away the effectiveness of the artistic presentation. No, Bendis is more than fair to his co-creators, giving them plenty of room to tell the story visually, but he likes to write, and he likes to write intrigue and mystery. He is, after all, first and foremost a crime writer. In a book like New Avengers, however, you've got to let all that tension out in big ways every now and then or you risk frustrating the audience too much to make your payoffs work like you want them to.

Such is the case with New Avengers 31. The Marvel Hype Machine promised "the most important last page of any Marvel comic this year!" It may turn out to be just that (especially since this is supposed to be the start of the 2008 Mega Event), but it wasn't a "blow your mind" moment. Elektra's a Skrull. I dunno - not exactly shocking, but then "important" doesn't mean "shocking." It's means, ironically, "important." But while many are focusing on this moment and while it's never a good idea to hold the Hype Machine to its words, the revelation that Elektra is a Skrull isn't the issue's last page. The last page is back at Strange's Sanctum Starbucksium, where the implication is that Luke and Jessica's daughter is a Skrull.

That'd be a Bendis move - hit everyone with the big Elektra reveal and then try to slide the most important moment in under the radar. Or maybe it doesn't mean anything. Either way, the implication is pretty clear - the Skrulls are attempting another invasion of Earth.

All told, New Avengers 31 wasn't the most satisfying read. Yu's pencils (which I like) are at their least effective during fight scenes where it often becomes difficult to clearly follow the action. The colors are way too murky, too.

"Revolution" was a solid story overall, but the weakest issue was the last issue and that doesn't leave a good taste in your mouth when then happens.

Countdown 46: Herald of the Monitors

Countdown 46: "Weapon of War" (Dini & Palmiotti/Gray and Saiz).

Countdown 46 works in large part, I believe, because it is arranged much more effectively than issue 47. The issue is tightly focused, concentrating largely on the ongoing threads involving Jimmy Olsen and Mary Marvel. The issue gives them time to breathe and while P&G's opening narration by Mary Marvel (and her dialogue in general) is a touch too overblown, the rest of the issue moves quickly and satisfactorily.

Mary Marvel, flush with the powers granted to her by Black Adam, is instantly thrown into battle against a rather disgusting looking character called Pharyngula who is to stillborn infants what the Thing is to orange rocks. It's pretty disgusting, to be honest, especially when he fires off some dead babies at Mary. The problem I have with her dialogue is that it doesn't totally wash with the Mary we've seen previously in this series.

The Rogues sequences need to start doing something and fast. They're an enjoyable crew to hang with, but it seems they fill the same role and have the same arguments and fights every single time we see them. After last issue's exchange between Piper and Trickster issue 46 would've been the perfect launching point.

I'm really starting to like Jason Todd. He fills the position of Batman Representative in the book - as Jimmy does for Supes, Donna Troy for Wonder Woman, the Rogues for Flash, Mary for the Marvels, and apparently Kyle Rayner will for Green Lantern. I'm wondering if there isn't a plan in place to turn this into a new team at the end of Countdown. It wouldn't be a bad idea for DC to use Countdown to build fan interest in some of their secondary- (and below-) level characters.

I continue to be intrigued by DC's decision to give away the final scene on the cover of each issue of Countdown. I'm not sure it makes a whole lot of sense and it does tend to wreck what is clearly supposed to be a dramatic ending. This time it's the introduction of Forerunner, the Monitor's personal attack dog. We get nothing here but a visual and a quick demonstration of her powers and she looks like Blink's, if Blink was a hippie-speedster assassin.

I dunno - it's like almost every cover of this series should come one issue later than it does. Weird.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Avengers Reprint & Back-Up

Avengers Classic 1 (Lee, McDuffie and Kirby, Oeming, Maguire).

There's no better sign of a property's hotness (real or perceived) than the expansion of the franchise. After years of having Avengers and Avengers only, the singular title no longer exists, but has been replaced by four books: New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Avengers: The Initiative (which seems titled that way solely to cash in on the popularity of the Avengers franchise), and now Avengers Classic, which will offer a reprint of the earliest Avengers issues and brand new back-up features.

More than anything else, this is probably the best sign of a title's perceived popularity, that a company thinks fans will plunk down $3-$4 to read a 44-year old reprint and a new back-up feature or two. It's not like Avengers 1 is hard to find, being available in several different reprint packages over the years, and it's not like the style of the original has suddenly come back into fashion. Yet here it is, roughly half old material, half new material underneath a jazzy new Art Adams cover.

The original story speaks for itself, though I'd be interested in knowing what percentage of people buying Avengers Classic 1 have read the original. (Plug time - if you want to hear what Avengers fans think of not only the original Lee/Kirby run but the whole of Avengers from Lee/Kirby through to the present, check out the upcoming ASSEMBLED! anthology from White Rocket Books, edited by Van Allen Plexico of Avengers Assemble. All profits to George Perez's charity of choice!)

The back-up stories feature high-quality talent (Dwayne McDuffie, Michael Avon Oeming, Kevin Maguire, and Stan the Man himself) but none of them (with all due respect) really bring fandom along with them by name and reputation alone. High quality creators, but not known for producing blockbusters, so I wonder what percentage of people were drawn to the book just to get the back-up stories.

Both back-ups in Avengers Classic 1 take a humorous look at the early days of the team's history when the Hulk was still on board. In fact, it's a bit surprising to see the Hulk featured most prominently on the front cover. Adams does front the original line-up in his fifty-something-people cover image, so I wonder if that's by design to also visually tie into this month's World War Hulk event.

It might just be a happy coincidence, though, given how prominently the Hulk features into early issues of Avengers. Regardless, it's a pretty cover.

McDuffie's story focuses on the team's second monthly meeting and is basically an excuse to show the team fighting amongst themselves as they try to figure out who the team's chairman is. The two best lines are both from the Hulk. First, he replies to Ant-Man's half-finished threat by wondering what, exactly, Ant-Man could do to him: "Ruin my picnic?" And then a few pages later refers to Iron Man as a "glorified bodybuard" as the team fights over who should be Chairman.

Oeming's painted art (I haven't seen this from him before) is very nice, though it does strike me as if Oeming simply painted his regularly-drawn panels and not developed or attempted a new style of layout to go along with the new presentation. I could be completely wrong on that, though, because it's been a while since I've read a book Oeming penciled. (I like to read Powers in huge chunks.)

Lee's story is a "behind the scenes" feature that shows how he (injecting himself into the comic) got the team to band together: by offering them lots of money. Kevin Maguire's art is finely suited for a humorous tale like this and really punches up Lee's dialogue.

Both stories are fun and well-crafted and it's nice to see some fun in an Avengers book amidst all the post-Civil War struggles between pro- and anti-Registration heroes in New, Mighty, and The Initiative.

At the end of the issue, editors Mark Beazley and Andy Schmidt say tha the back-up feature will usually be character driven but they wanted these initial stories to be more tongue-in-cheek. McDuffie and Oeming (and his new painted style) will be the regular back-up team and I think that's a smart choice - both because these guys are extremely talented but also to give the back-up story a consistent approach.

Beazley and Schmidt also say they'll reprint the original letters page in the back and I'd rather they didn't do that. One, I hate lettercols. Unless said lettercol is done like Busiek does Astro City, Larsen does Savage Dragon, where you have multiple pages devoted to long letters and creator response (not editorial response) I'd rather not read a letters page. Honestly, here's 99% of all Marvel and DC lettercols ever: a handful of "I loved it!," a dash of "I hated it!," and the occasional List of Questions. Reading current versions of this predictable mix is bad enough, but to have to 44-year old comments included ... ugh. I'd rather see them turn that page over to one of the Handbook writers to write a one-page column about that issue's original tale. Or, if we have to have letters, split the difference, giving us half old letters and half new letters.

Just a thought.

Honestly, I don't know if I'll be picking up this book every month and I'm almost as interested to see how this title performs in the marketplace as I am about reading the back-up issue every month. I hope the title helps bring the gap between old school fans (introducing them to newer creators they may not be familiar with) and new school fans (who might not have read the originals). Avengers Classic isn't going to "must read" status with one issue on the shelf, but it is a book worth checking out.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

New Warriors 1: An Unexpected Good Time

New Warriors 1: "Defiant" (Grevioux & P. Medina).

Earlier, I posted that I wanted to like Omega Flight, but really didn't. The next book I read after Omega was the new New Warriors book, which I thought I wouldn't like, but do.

Even after reading and thinking about New Warriors 1 I don't think I should like it and yet Kevin Grevioux and Paco Medina produce such an excellent book of heroes trying to work the underground rebellion thing that I'm left completely hooked by the opening issue of this series.

On the surface, this is yet another Anti-Stark book. Stark has become the Marvel Universe whipping boy, which is fitting and deserved thanks to his role in Civil War, but at some point Marvel (maybe purposely) is going to hit overkill on this issue. It's not that Stark should be celebrated, or even left alone, but there's only so many times you can see Stark get chewed out from up-close (even the Pro-Reg heroes like Ms. Marvel are getting in on it) or ripped part from afar. If there's a balance it works better, but New Warriors 1 is so overwhelmingly ant-Stark that Grevioux might have been better off giving us a side-character who vociferously defended him as much as the side-character who bashes him, just so we felt that tension a little stronger.

And yet, I can't say it negatively effected me all that much because that's not the focus of the book. The issue spends so much time with Sofia, who's relatively well-adjusted to life without her mutant powers and seems content to not fall under the eye of the Registration Act. Grevioux does an excellent job taking an "on the ground" examination of Registration, setting up a binary between the rebellious (and largely unseen) Warriors and the regular cops who work the NYPD Costumed Division who have this new law to add to their duties.

Sofia is either a really great character waiting to break out or just the beneficiary of one really good story. Grevioux instantly hooked me into the character. After starting the issue with a 3-page pursuit of Grey Gargoyle by mysterious (to us) voices that takes place in the dark of night, we get hit with a big bright two page sequence of Sofia flying, then crashing to the Earth as another woman robs her of her wings and sends her crashing to Earth. It seems pretty obvious that the other woman is the Scarlet Witch and the dream to represent Wanda's "No More Mutants" decree from House of M that robbed all but 198 mutants of their powers, but Grevioux doesn't force all of that information on us.

And I should hate that. I have no idea who the character is that chases Grey Gargoyle, no idea who Sofia is, no idea who the cops are, and barely remember Beak. I should want some information about them, but I don't need it. Grevioux gives us what we need to understand this story alone, often doing the slow- or delayed-reveal thing to great effect. It's not so much that he creates mysteries that we have to wait for answers to as much as it is giving us what we need to know only when we really need to know it. It's pretty impressive and helps slow-build the rising tension.

After Sofia's dream, we see her wake up on the subway train with everyone looking at her like she's the crazy one, which instantly makes us feel empathetic towards her. The next page sees Sofia on the streets of NYC. In the first panel there appears to be a dude in black following her, then we get a panel of her looking at a display of Thunderbolts toys. In panel 3 we see her from the back, standing in front of an Iron Man "Registration, It's the Law!" poster, panel 4 gives us a close-up of her face where we see her looking resigned at the poster, then panel 5 has her walking away. It's a very strong sequence that owes it's power to Paco Medina's pencils. The issue's art (Medina on pencils, Juan Vlasco on inks, and colors by Marte Gracia) is bright, fresh, clean, and well-paced, perfectly matching Grevioux's script. New Warriors 1 is just a fun book to look at and flip through.

The plot involves Sofia's recruitment into the New Warriors, led by a customer named Barry who's been frequenting the place to check out Sofia for the Warriors. When he reveals himself to her she's angry but his offer (helped by his revealing himself as her former x-mate Beak) stubbornly draws her in, leading to the last page revelation of Night Thrasher (presumably a new one since the original Thrasher died) as the man behind the operation.

On the whole, New Warriors works as a companion piece to Avengers: The Initiative. Where that book shows us the state-sanctioned take on young heroes, New Warriors gives us the outsider's experience. I'd expected this to be a one-issue check-in with New Warriors, but if issue 1 is indicative of the overall quality of this book I'm going to be around for the long haul.

The First and Last Flight Omegan?

Omega Flight 1-3 (of 5) (Oeming & Kolins).

Omega Flight was supposed to be an ongoing series, but then right around the time Marvel decided to switch Avengers: The Initiative to ongoing from an LS, it reversed that course with Omega Flight. And while the Initiative is rolling along with no seeming ill effects, Omega Flight, unfortunately, is not fairing nearly as well.

It's hard, of course, to know how the series would play different without that little "of 5" on the cover. There's something to be said for a good story being a good story regardless of whether it's published as an ongoing or LS or stand-alone graphic novel, but format can make a difference, and with Omega Flight that difference is to the detriment of the series.

I want to like this LS because I like Oeming, I was a fan of the earliest incarnations of Alpha Flight and its characters, I like this particular group of characters, and I like the set-up of Canada having to deal with spill-over problems originating in the United States.

I want to like it, but I just don't, and I really think a big part of the problem is that Oeming wrote this opening story for a long, slow build. Instead of instantly giving us a newly formed Omega Flight doing its thing, Oeming is slowly creating the team, bringing in one character at a time and explaining why they're a part of OF. In the latest issue, then, he's still introducing characters to the book, but even though Beta Ray Bill (always a favorite) is finally brought into the book he hasn't yet met up with, let alone joined, the rest of the team.

For a 5-issue LS, there's way too much time devoted to the Wrecking Crew. If this was an ongoing they'd eventually be phased out and the extra time spent with them wouldn't feel like it does, which is to say it feels like the Wrecking Crew are forcing OF out of OF's own title.

The introduction of Michael Pointer to the storyline - the guy who killed the original Alpha Flight when he was being controlled by the Collective over in one of the X-Men books - hurts more than enhances the book, too, because there doesn't seem to be any hope that his character gets any kind of resolution as one member of a big cast in a 5-issue series. The Canadian government puts Pointer into a Guardian costume because his powers are out of control and Elizabeth Twoyoungmen is, rightly, furious at them for doing it. She spends much of her time in issue 3 yelling at them and yelling at him - so much time and so much anger, however, makes it difficult to think there's going to be a satisfactory ending after 5 issues between them. With an LS you've only got so much time to get stories introduced and resolved, and the Pointer/Talisman conflict needs much more time and space than it's been given, or will have a chance to get, in this LS.

Maybe when the five issues are done and, presumably, we get that last shot of a wholly formed Omega Flight ready for action the story will have come together, but for right now - with more issues gone than still to come, I'm just not feeling it. I wish I was; I think Marvel did a disservice to the book and to Oeming switching gears on him like they did. I'd like to see Oeming get a shot at writing this as a monthly, so I hope the sales justify it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

101 Reasons Why Nightwing Should Not Be Offed

Nightwing 133: "321 Days, Part One" (Wolfman & Igle).

As most everyone knows by now, Nightwing was slated for death during Infinite Crisis because Dan Didio didn't get the character. Smarter heads prevailed, Dick Grayson was saved, and he goes on going on. The book struggled, however, never really finding a satisfying voice.

Until now. Marv Wolfman has entered as Nightwing's new writer and steered the character back to readability. Wolfman does one thing really well in this book and that's write Dick Grayson.

In fact, Wolfman's entire storytelling technique in Nightwing seems designed to illuminate the character of Grayson, as if this is his best evidence to Didio that, see, not only is this character unique and worth having running around, but those old stories have a value to them to and if you missed their significance that's on you, not Grayson.

Wolfman uses the supporting characters in the book to help craft our impression of Dick - so much so that they aren't really individualized characters at all. They wander in and out of the book. When they're in, it's to give us something for Dick. When they're out, they are pretty much ignored. Think of someone like Aunt May or Flash Thompson; while they are there, undoubtedly, to help further Peter's character, they usually also have their own stuff going on and sometimes the things Peter/Spidey do float back to May or Flash or MJ to illuminate those characters.

Wolfman hasn't done that, yet. Which is fine; I'm not saying his method here is better or worse than any other method because it comes down to execution and Wolfman executes very strongly.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Initiative 3 & the Joys of Being Third-Rate

Avengers: The Initiative 3: "Bug Hunt" (Slott & Caselli)

Here's the difference between The Initiative and Countdown that I find most striking: The Initiative revels in the general third-rateness of its characters while Countdown seems determined to get rid of them.

That's a generalization, and I think The Initiative's pro-minor character stance says more about Dan Slott than Marvel editorial, while Countdown's ongoing "get rid of the anomalies" plot stinks of Dan Didio more than Paul Dini. After reading through this week's two books, however, it's rather striking that the majority of Monitors rally around the Rogue Monitor's (please, for the love of sanity, give them names or numbers so we can tell them apart) hawkish plan to eradicate reality-hopping anomalies while the Initiative is repurposing lesser-known characters (Gargoyle is this book's equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock - I bet Slott has ordered Caselli to work in Gargoyle at least one panel an issue) and giving them a purpose beyond sitting around waiting for some writer to pick them up to kill them off.

One of the big rumors running around fandom these days is that Slott is about to be tapped to take over Amazing Spider-Man when editorial reshuffles the Spidey creative teams later this year. Spider-Man's appearance in Initiative 3, then, also serves as a trial run, of sorts. Without meaning to overreact to such a brief use of the character, Slott's depiction of Spidey rings true and enjoyable. Spidey lets loose his standard array of quips and jokes, but it's underscored with a serious sense of what's going on in his life - not the least of which is being hounded by the Initiative.

The plot focuses around the central thread of War Machine and Komodo going after Spider-Man and one-half of the Sinister Syndicate (Boomerang, Shocker, Hydro-Man). The plan is to nail Spidey with "SPIN tech," which will allegedly permanently remove his super powers. Slott does his usual masterful job of working multiple angles off this core concept: Komodo's promotion to field agent status, the official introduction of SPIN tech, Komodo's nervousness in the field, Spider-Man's admonition of the Initiative for going after him instead of the Syndicate, a heated exchange between Rhodey and Parker (an example, I think, is exactly what Quesada was looking to do with Civil War), Spidey's confident verbal dismantling of Komodo, and the introduction of the new Scarlet Spiders.

Yeah, Scarlet Spiders.

Not the dorky Ben Reilly-era Scarlet Spider, but the dorky Civil War era Iron Spider armor repurposed as an Initiative strike team.

It actually comes off as pretty cool and creepy to see three of the Scarlet Spiders descend on the Syndicate after they thought they'd gotten away, which is a credit to how well effectively Slott and Caselli build that sequence. I'm still not overly crazy about the overall look of Caselli's art, but he draws fantastic actions sequences and he's a perfect fit for Slott's writing. This could turn out to be a career-defining moment for both writer and artist as it's not going to be too many more issues until it's going to look odd to see anyone but these two working on the book. That speaks very highly of the quality of work they're putting in on Initiative.

Slott never forgets, too, that the very existence of the Initiative program and Camp Hammond shouldn't simply be accepted as a good thing. He works in an appearance by Curt Connors (the Lizard) to ask him about Komodo, one of Connors' former students who stole and perfected his lizard-formula. (Isn't it great that Connors' formula is just "lizard-formula?" If the Lizard was invented today, it would have some catchy acronym for a name.) Connors tells Pym he's got no concerns about Melati's ability to control her powers, but he's more concerned about the "military application of a science that I had a hand in creating." When he asks Pym if he'd approve of Melati's field mission, Pym won't tell him. It's a small but powerful reminder that not everyone is fully behind the Initiative program, even a registered "hero" like Dr. Connors.

I continue to be impressed with how many different ideas Slott manages to work in without the book becoming overburdened (like the otherwise solid New X-Men) or choppy (as occasionally derails Countdown). Adding Dani Moonstar to the staff makes me happy (she's long been a favorite character), as does the brief dip into the town of Stamford, where residents are none-too-thrilled to see a military camp pop up after the incident that kicked off Civil War.

One question I do have, though, is why is Komodo being sent after Spider-Man? If the Initiative and/or Stark is serious about bringing Peter in, or eliminating his powers, why send a rookie? Send War Machine, Justice, and Pym. Send the Thunderbolts. Heck, send Stark himself. I hope Slott picks up on this in future issues.

The Initiative is a fun book that stays grounded in the political and social implications of the post-Civil War Marvel Universe. It's definitely among my favorite books at the moment.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Countdown 47: Here a Plot, There a Plot, Everywhere a Plot-Plot

Countdown 47: "Bricks in the Wall" (Dini/McKeever & Derenick).

For the second issue in a row, Countdown has chosen to spoil its ending on its cover. It's a curious decision - on the one hand it clearly signals the main event of the issue, but by giving the ending away up front it can make some of the interior reading anti-climactic. One look at the above cover and you know what's going to happen to Mary Marvel, just like last issue you knew what was going to happen to Lightray. It's harder to build tension when the audience knows how the story is going to end - the journey to that ending can still be enjoyable but it's harder to pull off.

Countdown 47 suffers from the same malady that afflicted Countdown 49 - too many sub-plots that simply plod along on their own and not enough overall cohesion. There's no real center-line to Countdown 47 and the result is that the impact of Black Adam's decision to give his powers to Mary Marvel don't carry the impact they would have if that sequence had been given more space to develop.

While the individual components are solid, the issue felt mostly flat to me. It felt mostly like "set-up" and not "pay-off," and it shouldn't have felt that way because Dini & Co. do finally pay off the "which way will the Monitors go" angle, the Mary and Black Adam angle, and the "what are Piper and Trickster" up to angle. Odd, then, that the issue just didn't feel satisfying.

I don't think it's McKeever's fault, as the dialogue is mostly solid, but rather a structural problem. The issue breaks down on the following outline:

Pages 1-4: Jimmy Olsen
Pages 5-6: Holly Robinson
Pages 7-9: Mary and Adam
Pages 10-12: Monitors
Pages 13-15: Piper and Trickster
Pages 16-19: Mary and Adam
Page 20: Amazons Attack
Pages 21-24: History of Multiverse back-up

Space-wise, the Mary Marvel and Black Adam sub-plot does get 1/3 of the space devoted to the front feature, but it's not properly arranged to give it impact. We don't get into their story until page 7, and it's an odd choice to intro a new sub-plot on pages 5 & 6, especially coming on the heels of the Jimmy Olsen opening, which does give us the interesting image of Jimmy as part of the Source Wall (I think that's what it is), but isn't picked up on again this issue.

The Monitor and Rogues sequence in the middle of the book are the two most dense sequences, as the Jimmy, Holly, and Amazon sequences basically just tease future stories.

Maybe if they had arranged the issue segments as: Jimmy / Mary / Monitors / Holly / Rogues / Mary the issue would have flowed better. There's no real reason to include the Amazons Attack plug that I see, other than to fill the promise that Countdown would touch upon all the major stories happening in the DCU during Countdown's run. If those moments are used here just to plug something else than it's not going to work - it's up to Dini & Co. to make those moments feel a part of this story. They could have easily combined the Holly and Amazons sequences together to give a more cohesive feel.

To steal a phrase from the President, Dini & Co. need to be uniters and not dividers. There are bound to be issues during the series that will read tenfold better in TPB form than single-issue variety and Countdown 47 is one of those issues. It's not an issue that will turn me off from the series, but neither is it one that's going to get my juices flowing. The issue isn't bad, but it's not all that good, either.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Dini Detective

Detective Comics 833: "Trust" (Dini & Kramer).

Note - I am NOT going to spoil the ending of Detective Comics 833 in this post, but if it comes up in the comments I'm not going to delete them. Reader beware.

Comics fans love to bemoan and decry crossover events but then a whole heck of a lot of comics fans go out and buy those crossovers like crazy. Crossovers always kept me away from the Batman and Superman titles. It seemed like when I was at the height of my comics buying Batman and Superman still didn't make the cut because I couldn't just buy Batman or Detective or Superman or Action Comics but I had to buy both of them plus Steel and Robin and Azrael and Catwoman and Man of Steel and whatever else DC could slap a Bat or "S" logo on. You either had to be all-in or all-out with Bats and Supes and I chose to be all-out. They were always appearing other books anyway so it was no big loss.

DC has come off of the mega-crossover of the Bats and Supes titles; doing so has to hurt sales but it has made them easier to follow. (Except for the fill-ins plaguing Action at the moment.) The best of all of DC's "big two" books is Paul Dini's Detective Comics.*

Dini tends to write stand-alone tales that simply give us entertaining Batman stories. They are not grandiose, they do not rely on hype, they aren't promising to "change everything you know about Batman." They're just good stories and good comics. For everyone who whines about the TPB-style of writing or decompressed storytelling, Dini's Detective is for you.

In Detective 833, Dini loosens the reigns a bit, giving us the first part of a multi-part storyline, but Detective 833 is a fully-realized comic in its own right. You will not feel ripped off after reading it and instead of forcing you to come back next month to get the rest of the story like so many titles do these days, you will actually want to come back because you don't feel cheated.

The issue opens with Batman helping to rescue some performers from a magic show gone wrong. Bats is drawn to the theatre by the presence of the magician, Ivar Loxias, who's had a run of tragic accidents at recent shows. This night is no different, as Laxias' assistant, Katy Michaels, dies when failing to escape through a sliding panel during a "cremation illusion."

Katy was previously professionally involved with Zatanna, allowing for Bats to call on her expertise. The team-up is tense, given Zatanna's mindwipe of Batman during Identity Crisis. In the issue's strongest line, Zatanna asks Bats: "Tell me one thing, Bruce. Did you call me here to solve my friend's murder or to reopen old wounds? I'd really like to know before you force me to apologize again for the worst mistake of my life." Instead of a verbal answer, we get a two-panel follow-up showing each of the characters looking at one another. Batman's lack of answer (he eventually breaks the silence by telling her to get in the car) works effectively with the Dini-inserted backstory of Bruce and Zatanna interacting as children.

It makes for a full and strong issue even before we get to the twist ending, which Dini builds incredibly well. I hadn't seen it coming until Batman starts to explain it and it's one of those adrenaline-inducing moments you get from really good thrillers.

There's more flash and bang over in Grant Morrison's Batman, but Dini has been delivering far superior stories.

*Wonder Woman is "big three" in name only. As important as she is inside the DCU, she has nowhere near the same effect on fandom.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Requiem for a Surfer

Silver Surfer: Requiem 1 (of 4) (JMS & Ribic).

I'm not really sure if Requiem is supposed to be in-continuity, out-of-continuity, a future continuity, a past continuity, a painted version of "The End" line ... I just don't know and after reading the first issue of the new Marvel Knights mini from JMS and Esad Ribic I don't really care.

This is a good comic.

In part, this is because it plays to the strengths of the creators and the character. JMS and the Silver Surfer are finely suited for one another - JMS likes to write "big issues" stories with a lot of pronouncement-styled dialogue and those techniques work well with the aloof and almost-all-powerful Surfer. The Surfer stands somewhere between Jeffrey Sinclair and John Sheridan - he's got Sinclair's stiff seriousness and Sheridan's love of hearing himself talk, though the Surfer, at least, keeps most of his monologues internal.

Maybe this makes Norrin a grown-up Lennier ...

The plot of Requiem is straightforward - the Surfer has health concerns, comes to Earth to get tested by Reed Richards, and finds out he's dying. The plot is secondary at best in a story like this, however, where the focus isn't on action as much as it is a specific theme.

If there's a complaint here, it's that the story is ponderously slow. There's too much time spent with the FF as opposed to the Surfer and JMS "hides" Norrin's impending death from the reader for far too many pages, but both moves help set the pace and the approach, so while they are less-than-stellar, they are, perhaps, necessary.

It also feels right. Having the Surfer come to Earth and then be hidden behind the doors to Reed's lab while Ben and Johnny take us through that part of the issue reinforces both the Surfer's aloofness and how little we know of him. For such a unique and interesting character, there are few great Silver Surfer stories out there. People (including me) like to point to Green Lantern as an example of how poor a writer Ron Marz is, but his Silver Surfer was even worse, though not as harmful to the long-term health of the character.

I've had this theory for a while that action sells more comics in the ongoing sense while thoughtfulness rules the mini/limited route, but I've never given it any deep thought. Requiem 1, however, is all about the thoughtful. JMS lays it on a bit thick, at times, but on the whole his handling of the Surfer (combined with some beautiful painted art from Ribic) makes this a comic worth flipping through on the shelf. Save your coins, though, and get the collected edition of this story if issues 2-4 are of the quality of issue 1.