Monday, February 28, 2011

Is It Wednesday Yet?

Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth #1
New comics this week!

On my pull list:
  • Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth #1 (of 3) (Dark Horse)
  • Sweet Tooth #19 (Vertigo)
  • Astonishing Thor #3 (of 5) (Marvel)
By now you've probably heard of Axe Cop, the webcomic written by a six-year-old and drawn by his 30-year-old brother. A few months ago, Dark Horse published a trade paperback collection of the strip. Bad Guy Earth, however, is all new material produced specifically for print. Ethan Nicolle spent a whole month at play with brother Malachai to come up with the plot and waited until the whole story was written down before he started drawing it. It'll be interesting to see how this affects the storytelling, compared to the webcomic's more stream-of-consciousness randomness. Preview.

It seems that every month, Jeff Lemire doesn't something with Sweet Tooth that he's never done before. This time, he opens up the door to his fictional universe and lets a few guest writers/artists play in it. These are Matt Kindt, Nate Powell and Emi Lenox. Which makes this an absolute must buy! Do you hear me? Even if you don't usually read this book, do not pass this one up! Preview.

Also noteworthy:
  • Joe the Barbarian #8 (of 8) (Vertigo)
  • Carbon Grey #1 (Image)
  • Herculian #1 (Image)
  • Intrepids #1 (Image)
  • Captain America and Falcon #1 (Marvel)
  • Emma #1 (of 5) (Marvel)
  • Marvel Zombies Supreme #1 (of 5) (Marvel)
  • Taiko GN (Marvel)
  • Bodysnatchers #1 (of 6) (GG Studio)
  • Chaotic Soldiers GN (Arcana)
  • Styx & Stone #1 (Bluewater)
  • Unimaginable GN (Arcana)
I totally missed the boat on Joe the Barbarian, the critically acclaimed mini-series by Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy, but I've nevertheless been eagerly awaiting the long-delayed final issue, because the sooner it comes out, the sooner the trade paperback collection will follow, and I'll finally be able to read it. Well, here it is at long last.

Lots of new stuff from Image this week. Carbon Grey and Intrepids look like new ongoings, although Image has a habit of sneakily turning those into mini-series after a few issues have already been solicited, so who knows? Herculian, meanwhile, looks like a hodgepodge of collected material from Erik Larsen in a 48-page Golden Age sized volume. You can find previews and more info for all of these on Image's website.

Captain America and Falcon is a one-shot which I think possibly ties into Fear Itself. I'm not sure. But I might get it anyway, because Rebekah Isaacs does the art. Written by Rob Williams. Preview.

Takio is a new all-ages graphic novel by Bendis and Oeming. It looks great! Preview.

Bodysnatchers is a "story with retro-sci-fi flare and a visionary dystopian saga" by Italian writer and artist Pasquale Pako Massimo. I can't seem to find much more information about it online. Other than the solicitation text and low-resolution jpegs of the cover, I can't seem to find any promotional material for this title online. I don't really understand why some smaller publishers have almost no web presence. Maybe they don't want to sell any comics. In any case, I haven't pre-ordered this so I doubt my store will have a copy.

The graphic novel Chaotic Soldiers, meanwhile, has a whole website devoted to it and you can read the full first chapter of the graphic novel for free on it.

Styx & Stone is a new horror series, not to be confused with the Marvel characters of the same name. Bluewater usually puts out crappy Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga comics, but this actually looks like it could be okay. There's a preview here and a review here.

There's a preview for Unimaginable here.

Finally, Wulf is part of the relaunch of the Atlas line of comics from the 1970s. The new series is written by Steve Niles with art by Nat Jones. Find out more here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

One-paragraph reviews: Detective Comics, Action Comics, Secret Avengers, Abyss: Family Issues

Detective Comics #874
Written by Scott Snyder; art by Francesco Francavilla; DC

When Scott Snyder and Jock took over Detective Comics a few months ago, I was immediately impressed by their work together and have been saying ever since that this is the best Batman ongoing currently being published. With Francesco Francavilla on art, this continues to be true. The story picks up where the back-up featured in the first couple of issues left off. (All back-ups were cut from DC books for their "Drawing the Line" initiative, which saw page counts as well as prices reduced.) The first eight pages of the book feature Commissioner James Gordon and his son sitting at a diner and having a conversation. This may sound like a pretty boring opening, but it's anything but, thanks to both Snyder's dialogue and Francavilla's amazing art and colours. The rest of the book features Batman (Dick Grayson) and Red Robin (Tim Drake) on a little adventure, which follows more directly from the previous story line, with Dick still suffering from the effects of the drug he was infected with last issue. I'm guessing that this part wasn't originally supposed to be drawn by Francavilla, as it seems to be more of a prologue to the story arc that kicks off next issue, with Jock back on the art. While it feels a little disjointed here, it's nice that it provided Francavilla with the opportunity to draw a really cool action sequence in addition to the more noirish material in the James Gordon Jr. story. Presumably, both of these seemingly separate plots will come together in the next arc.

AWESOME

Action Comics #898
Written by Paul Cornell; art by Pete Woods; DC

It makes sense that Larfleeze would show up near the end of this story, since what triggered all of this was Luthor's brief stint in the Orange Lantern Corps during Blackest Night. That fight brings everything full circle as Luthor draws closer to his goal of acquiring new power from the mysterious black orbs. But as has been the case since the beginning of this story, for me the real start of this issue is Robot Lois Lane, the most complicated, fascinating and oddly sympathetic character in the book. We've known for a while now that she's been manipulating Luthor since the beginning, and at the end of this issue it's finally revealed who she's been working for. I won't spoil it, but let's just say it should come as no surprise to anyone who's been paying attention. Surprise is not the point though. What's great is the way this adds depth to her character. Robot Lois is very much her own person - she has a personality and her own will and possibly even feelings. But there are aspects of her programming that force her to be subservient to her "master," even though she resents him for it. My only fear is that her character will be killed (or destroyed) at the end of this story. I think that would be a real waste. She's my favourite new character since Damian Wayne and I think there's a lot of potential for great storytelling with her after this ends. Fingers crossed. (PS: I love Robot Lois's fashion sense. Those head scarves!)

GOOD

Secret Avengers #10
Written by Ed Brubaker; art by Mike Deodato and Will Conrad; Marvel

The second story arc concludes and I come to the conclusion that this title really does nothing for me. There's really nothing terribly wrong with the story or with the art or with the characters. I'm just not interested in any of it. I don't really care what happens. I've been reading this for 10 issues waiting for something to really grab me and make want look forward to the next issue, but it's just not happening. I'm dropping this, but I'm not giving it a "DROP" rating, because I think my lack of interest has a lot to do with the fact that this is Marvel and I'm not really invested in any of these characters. (On the other hand, if this was really good, it should have made me like these characters enough to keep reading, no?)

OKAY

Abyss: Family Issues #1
Written by Kevin Rubio; art by Alfonso Ruiz; Red 5

I wanted to give this title a try because the premise sounded good and while I haven't read the previous mini-series (or volume, as Red 5 calls them), this seemed like an easy enough jump-on point. While the story isn't very original, with the right execution this would've been easily overlooked. Unfortunately, neither the writing nor the art rise to the challenge. The attempts at humour fall completely flat and a lot of the exposition is clunky (and jokey editor's notes about the necessity of this exposition don't really make up for the clunkiness). But it's the art that really kills it. Some of the sequences are difficult to follow because the continuity between panels is unclear. Faces are inconsistent and there's a general lack of detail in the backgrounds. A long scene in the middle of the issue features two characters sitting in a room having a conversation, which is the kind of thing that an artist like Francesco Francavilla (see Detective Comics review above) can make visually interesting, but here it's just boring and repetitive. The most offensive part, though, is the obvious photoshopping of photographs found online and planted in the background. I think it happens throughout the issue, but it was most jarring in the scene at Stanford University, where a quick Google Image search allowed me to find the exact photo that was being swiped:

(Click to enlarge)

This is just incredibly lazy and, frankly, kind of insulting. I would have expected more from Red 5, considering how awesome their Atomic Robo titles are - hilariously funny, original and featuring consistently strong art. I was hoping for something similar and I really wanted to like this, but Abyss: Family Issues just isn't any good. (The publisher provided a PDF of this issue for my review.)

AWFUL

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Five Images

Captain America by Tom Scioli

Damian Wayne and Tim Drake by XMenouX@DA

Doctor Octopus by Skottie Young

Hellboy by Paolo Rivera

Superboy by Kalle Malloy

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tim Drake from the Beginning - Part 4: "Rite of Passage"

Detective Comics #618
Detective Comics #618-621 "Rite of Passage"
Written by Alan Grant; art by Norm Breyfogle, Dick Giordano and Steve Mitchell; DC

(Tons of spoilers follow.)

Last time we looked at "A Lonely Place of Dying," the story about how Tim Drake figured out Batman's identity and convinced him that he needed a new Robin. Bruce Wayne agreed to start training him, but without making any promises.

Part of the appeal of Tim Drake as he was established in that story was that he came from a different background than either of the previous Robins. He's not a child in distress that Batman saves and takes under his wing. In fact, he's the one who goes after Batman and convinces him that he needs Tim's help, which is almost a complete reversal of Dick and Jason's origins, where Batman was the one who actively initiated the relationship.

At the core of this difference is the fact that, unlike Dick and Jason and Bruce himself, Tim is not an orphan. Although his parents are busy and frequently absent, they are alive and able to provide for him. If the whole idea behind the character of Robin (at least initially) is that younger readers can see themselves in him, then this all made perfect sense. Most teenagers who read Batman comics are not orphans and probably don't want their parents to die. Tim is a normal teenager who comes from a relatively well adjusted family, so here's someone they can all relate to and through whom they can fantasize about being Robin. (For the sake of argument, I'm ignoring the fact that pretty much every reader of Batman comics actually fantasizes about being Batman. Just go with it.)

So Tim was a fresh and new and exciting take on Robin. It's absolutely baffling, then, that the first thing DC decided to to do with the character after his introduction was to strip him of everything that set him apart from his predecessors. In a story called "Rite of Passage," they swiftly killed his mother and turned him into an orphaned child in distress.

Let's think about that title for a second and what it means. A "rite of passage" marks the transition or progression from one stage to another. In this case, the passage is from ordinary boy to hero. The ritual event that he has to go through in order to make that transition is personal tragedy, or more specifically, the loss of a parent.

Rites of passage usually have a universal quality, so the implication is that this is something Tim has to go through in order to become a hero. Tim himself says so at the end of part 2 (issue #619):


Alfred is quick to dismiss the idea, but everything about this story confirms that this is actually the case. Why else would the editors and writers of this story decide to off his mother in a story called "Rite of Passage" before he gets to call himself a hero?

That decision has never made any sense to me. Tim's origin story provided all the motivation he needed to follow in the footsteps of Dick and Jason. His admiration and respect for Batman, a sense of duty and personal responsibility, courage, etc. Are these not enough to make him a hero? Apparently not. Because Batman is tormented and driven to action by personal loss and a desire for revenge, everyone he works with has to go through the same thing.

It's kind of infuriating. In case you couldn't tell, I don't like this story very much, and it's hard for me to look at it objectively and ignore my fan rage. I haven't even gotten into the meat of the story yet and I already feel like I've said everything that really needs to be said about it. There are a few more things going on that I'd like to point out, though.


The story opens with a nice tribute to Jason Todd. Tim looks up at Jason's uniform and says, "One day, I'll be as good as Jason. One day, I'll wear the suit. One day, I'll be a hero." It's nice that everyone in the comic has so much respect for Jason, considering how he was killed for the amusement of fans who called a 1-900 number. I'm used to the idea (from some fans) that Jason was out of control and had it coming, so it's nice to see that this is now how he is remembered at this point.

It's also cool that we have stories like this set at a time when Tim is in transition. He's not yet Robin - he hasn't started wearing the costume or going out on patrol - but he hangs out in the Bat Cave and helps Batman in his investigation (mostly making use of his computer skills), and even goes out to confront Anarky while Batman is away. I like that he wasn't just thrown into the role, that he's being eased into it gradually. This is a process that we don't see very often in comics.

Finally, it's interesting to look at this story from Batman's perspective and consider what it means to him. He's obviously still feeling guilty for the way things turned out with Dick and Jason, and he feels a strong sense of responsibility for Tim's well-being. He takes what's happening to his parents to heart and he does everything he can to save them. We see just how personal this is to him at the end when he fails to save them. He's overcome with emotion (horror, then rage, then despair) and there's a huge caption in block letters: "I'VE FAILED!"


Obviously, Bruce knows what it's like to be an orphan and the last thing he wants is for Tim to go through the same thing. And yet, during most of the story, he's unable to show his emotion or get too close to him. He's emotionally distant and he's keeping secrets from Tim. In one scene, he brings Tim his breakfast in the morning, and Tim notices that he doesn't take off the cowl: "He kept the cowl on. As if... he didn't want me to see his real feelings," Tim says in a caption.


It's only at the end, after Tim's mother has died and his father is in a coma, that Bruce really tries to comfort Tim. But when he does, Tim has a vision of the Bat and the darkness it represents. It's a fairly horrifying scene and a little over the top. Tim is snapped back into reality when a nurse invites him to go see his father. Bruce offers to accompany him, but Tim wants to do this alone. The issue ends with Bruce wondering about the burden he's placing on Tim's shoulders: "How do you make up for what he's lost? How do you pay back the pain, and the fear, and the lonely years? Draw power from death? Become like me? The night-monster. The man who taints the lives of all around him. Is that what I want for him? Is that what he'll want for himself?"

It's pretty heavy stuff. A little too heavy for my tastes, to be honest, and I think unnecessary. This is probably the low point of Tim Drake's early stories, but thankfully it gets better.

One last note: I think some of Norm Breyfogle's layouts are really awesome. The focus of these pieces are really on character, and as a result I don't spend much time talking about the art, but I've been really interested in layouts lately, so I may come back to these at a later date.

Next time, we look at "A Hero Reborn," from Batman #455-457. These issues were also collected in a (now out of print) trade paperback, along with the first Robin mini-series.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Is It Wednesday Yet?

Thor #620
New comics this week!

On my pull list:
  • Action Comics #898 (DC)
  • Detective Comics #874 (DC)
  • Teen Titans #92 (DC)
  • Thor #620 (Marvel)
Yeah, I don't have much to say about any of these books. They're all kind of mid-story right now, except Detective Comics, which I think is starting a new arc. So if you're not reading it, you might want to jump on. It's currently the best Batman ongoing.

Also noteworthy:
  • The Mission #1 (Image)
  • Term Life GN (Image)
  • Iron Man 2.0 #1 (Marvel)
  • Abyss: Family Issues #1 (of 4) (Red 5)
  • Crossed: Psychopath #1 (of 6) (Avatar)
The Mission is a new mini-series on Marc Guggenheim's "Collider Entertainment," an imprint specifically designed to bring "Hollywood talent" into the world of comics. In this case, the talent is the screenwriting duo behind RED, which was itself based on a comic book, so that's a lot of back and forth between the two entertainment industries. It's the story of a random guy who one day is told that he's been chosen for an important mission "in the battle between good and evil." The premise doesn't do much for me, but with the right execution it could be interesting. Check out the preview, or read an interview with writers Eric and Jon Hoeber.

Term Life is a new graphic novel written by A.J. Lieberman and illustrated by Nick Barrow. I'm not familiar with either of their work, but this looks pretty good. There's an interview and long preview here.

Iron Man 2.0 is a new ongoing series written by Nick Spencer, starring James Rhodes, previously known as War Machine. There was a prologue for this in Iron Man #500, which looked promising.

Abyss: Family Issues is the second volume of Kevin Rubio's creator-owned comic, Abyss, published by Red 5. Art is by Alfonso Ruiz and there's a preview here.

Crossed: Psychopath is another orgy of depravity, gore and perversion by David Lapham. Preview.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Comic Book Carnage 004: Legion of Super-Heroes and Silver Surfer

It's time for another edition of Comic Book Carnage, in which Mike (from It's a Bit of a Shame) and I put our friendship to the test and argue about stuff. Today, we review Legion of Super-Heroes #10 and Silver Surfer #1.

(Contains spoilers, mostly for Silver Surfer #1)

Legion of Super-Heroes #10
Written by Paul Levitz; art by Yildiray Cinar and Wayne Faucher; DC

Mike: I'll be honest. I don't like this book because it did anything better than any other book; I like it because it features characters I like doing cool stuff. Which made me wonder if it's enjoyable to someone who's not as big a fan of the Legion of Super-Heroes. So, Yan, you're nearly a year into reading this book. Have these characters grown on you at all?

Yan: Yes, they have. I feel like I'm starting to get a sense of who the individual characters are and the relationships between them. I'm still fascinated by the way Paul Levitz is handling this huge cast of characters who are often busy doing several different things at once in different parts of the universe. As far as I can tell, this kind of storytelling is unique to this book (at least in terms of what is currently being published by DC and Marvel).

Mike: Well, I'm glad to hear the book's succeeded at appealing to newer readers.

Yan: Yeah, although I wouldn't say it's new-reader friendly. It's definitely a challenge. If you don't already know the characters, you have to make an effort to get into it, but that's sort of inherent to the LOSH, I think. As far as the story goes, I confess that I'm not sure I fully understood what was going on with the Durlan assassins plot. It's probably not that complicated, but for me, because I'm already struggling to remember who the characters are, it was a bit hard to follow at times. At the end of the issue, when that whole plot seems to be resolved, it kind of took me by surprise. Because I was still kind of waiting for everything to click together and make sense.

Mike: One part that's bothered me about the direction of the story, and obviously this isn't Levitz's fault, is the choice of team leader.

Yan: Yeah. Maybe we should explain that, in case readers don't know what we're talking about. Traditionally, the leader of the team is chosen by the fans. They have an election in the story, but DC actually gets the fans to send in their votes. And this time, the Mon-El won the election, and the problem is Paul Levitz obviously had different plans for him with the whole Green Lantern of the 31st Century plot. You can really sense in this issue that he's trying to reconcile the results of the poll with the story that he'd already started working on. And it's kind of clunky.

Mike: I felt kind of sad when Mon-El's called back to take over leadership duties. He's right in the middle of what could have been a great subplot.

Yan: Yeah. It's a bit of a bummer. Fans really shot themselves in the foot with that one.

Mike: Although this lead to some great moments involving Brainiac 5, who is acting as leader until Mon-El's return. I feel like Brainiac 5 is the key to enjoying LOSH, much like Damian in Batman & Robin, there's just something really enjoyable about an arrogant jerk with the intelligence to back it up

Yan: Yeah, I agree. He's an enjoyable character for sure. I don't remember who I voted for in the election... In fact, I'm not even sure I did vote. But he's the character that stands out the most to me in terms of personality and I considered picking him. But then I realized that was too obvious, and in a way his character is more interesting if he's not in a position of authority. I like how he sort of stays on the sidelines and does his own thing, and then before anyone else has even had a chance to process what's going on, he's solved the case.

What do you think about the art? I know you were very critical of Cinar in earlier issues. Are you warming up to his style, or you still don't like it?

Mike: I acknowledge that this is an backhanded compliment, but I realize that in comparison to other artists working at DC he's not so bad.

Yan: Okay. Maybe that's why I never had a problem with his art in the first place. But another way of putting it is that it's competent. It may not be spectacular, but there's nothing really wrong with it. It's consistent.

Mike: I guess my problems stems from the fact that the last major take on these characters was by Gary Frank and George Perez, which shaped my current interpretation of these characters. So basically Yildiray Cinar's biggest crime is not being as good as the best of the industry.

Yan: Which is maybe a bit unfair. I mean, I wish this level of art quality was the standard at DC. This should be what average books look like, and then you'd have the really stand-out artists (Francis Manapul, Dustin Nguyen, etc) kicking it up a notch. If this were the case, I'd be satisfied. But when I look at the revolving door of shitty fill-in artists that Birds of Prey has seen since it relaunched, or the hacks they have on some of the high-profile books, it's really disheartening.

Okay, unless you have anything to add, let's maybe wrap this one up. I was thinking maybe we could start rating these books using my Patented Custom Super-vague Nebulous Non-scientific Rating Scale™. It's completely adaptable in the sense that you don't have to follow it at all. But basically, summarize your assessment of the book in a word or two.

Mike: Okay. Considering all that we have said, I think I will give this a GOOD.

Yan: Yeah, agreed. GOOD.

Silver Surfer #1
Written by Greg Pak; art by Stephen Segovia and Victor Olazaba; Marvel

Yan: I have a feeling we might not agree as much on this second book.

Mike: Yeah! This will be exciting. Since I get the impression that you enjoyed it, I want you to start us off so I will have more ammo for when I rip the book apart.

Yan: All right. As always with Marvel, I have limited exposure to the characters. Although in this case, I've at least read some Silver Surfer before. I read the classic Stan Lee/John Buscema stuff, and I've also encountered the character in The Infinity Gauntlet.

I was initially a bit thrown off by the way this ties into continuity. I figured out later that this happens immediately after Chaos War, which I haven't read, so I guess that explains why Galactus is knocked out at the beginning. At least they dealt with this quickly enough and then moved on with the story. So even though it starts as a kind of epilogue to a story I haven't read, it didn't take too much away from my enjoyment of the rest of the book.

What I liked about it was that it seemed pretty true to the character as I understand him: a kind of theatrical/emo drama queen. The Silver Surfer's inner monologue had a cheesiness to it that I always associate with the character.

I don't know who that Suzie Endo character is, and the whole plot about her working with the military and tracking those drug dealers or whatever was going on there... I wasn't too keen on that part of it. It was a bit hard for me to care about any of that, since it's a bit devoid of context. However, I thought the issue ended on a really strong note [SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS] with the reveal that Silver Surfer is losing his power. That scene was well done and it got me excited about where this was going, so I'm looking forward to the next issue.

Mike: First, yes, I agree that Greg Pak has nailed the highly emotional tone of the Silver Surfer, and for me that was one of the book's strongest points. But ultimately there were too many problems. Like the artist. Stephen Segovia's art just doesn't work for me. His Silver Surfer is too beefy. The Esad Ribic illustration featured at the beginning of the book is the ideal Surfer to me - smooth, kind of androgynous. Segovia's characters also lacked unique faces. The Mexican girl who shows up at the beginning doesn't look too different from Suzie Endo.

Speaking of Suzie, she didn't really grab me as a character, and I'm not fond of the idea that Pak feels this need to inject a more grounded character for readers, like the Silver Surfer is too hard to identify with. And my final gripe (I promise) is the use of the High Evolutionary. I'm guessing he's going to be the central villain, but he's only in this book for a startling two pages. Considering he's the catalyst for the main conflict, I would expect a little more time dedicated to him.

Yan: Okay. Let me tackle these points individually. I agree with your criticism of the art. It's not so bad that it detracts a whole lot from my enjoyment of the book, but I agree the female characters look too similar. I hadn't really thought about Silver Surfer's beefiness, but now that you mention it, I can see that also.
Although for me that applies to pretty much all super-heroes - I always prefer them with leaner bodies, so maybe I've learned to tune that out.

While I'm not really drawn to the character of Suzie very much, I'm not sure that her purpose here is to ground the reader who can't identify with the Silver Surfer. I'm hoping that she has an important role to play in the coming issues. Traditionally, Silver Surfer is always misunderstood by the humans, who see him as a threat. This is how the army guys react to him. Suzie's the only one who's willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And with him losing his powers, I'm assuming she'll have an important role to play in helping him regain them. So while I'm not really stoked on the character, I think she's there for a reason, and hopefully by the end of this mini-series she'll have grown on me.

Finally, about the villain, I don't know if that's a fair criticism. It's a pretty standard trope to introduce your major antagonist near the end of the first issue. I don't know that we really needed to spend more time on him. I'm surprised this bothered you. Is it more that you don't like this particular villain, or you would have felt the same way no matter who it was?

Mike: I felt that it ruined the flow of the story to have him show up so briefly. To me, Silver Surfer losing his powers should have had more attention. Basically the whole sequence felt rushed to me. So I guess pacing is my problem, not the villain.

Yan: Okay. Well, I disagree completely. Those last five or six pages were my favourite part of the issue, and I thought the pacing was perfect. I'd argue it's the strongest thing about the issue, even. The way that he first breaks away from the High Evolutionary and seems to have the upper hand, then he loses control of his board and it's like, "What the fuck?" Then the blood, then the bullets going through the board, then the reveal in the final full-page slash. That was like a perfectly edited sequence - very cinematic and calculated for maximum effect. And the fact that the guy who causes all of this basically just shows up, does something unclear, then says "my apologies" and leaves, is kind of awesome.

Mike: I guess then all the other problems I had made it so that I was no longer invested in the story. So when that sequence came along I wasn't capable of enjoying it.

Yan: Hmm. Well, too bad. So I guess this is a DROP for you, i.e., you're not gonna buy the next issue?

Mike: I feel bad saying it since you enjoyed it so much, but I am going to have to go with DROP.

Yan: That's okay. I don't take it personally. I'm going to go with a cautiously optimistic GOOD. Not a huge fan of the art, but a promising start. My enjoyment of the rest of the series will mostly depend on whether Greg Pak can make me like Suzie or not.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Five Images

Doom Patrol by Declan Shalvey

Hulk by Evan Shaner

Phantom Girl by Marcelo Di Chiara

Superman by Ming Doyle

Wonder Woman by Jill Thompson

Friday, February 18, 2011

One-paragraph reviews: Supergirl, Wolverine and Jubilee, Marvel Girl

Wolverine and Jubilee #2
Written by Kathryn Immonen; art by Phil Noto; Marvel

I've already mentioned how infatuated I am with Phil Noto's art in this series. It's beautiful and the characters are expressive in really subtle ways. Kathryn Immonen's script is good, also, although I found some of the conversation in the first scene a little bit confusing. Overall, this issue is maybe not quite as strong as the first one, but it's still highly enjoyable and it was my favourite comic this week. I'm looking forward to the rest of the mini-series.

VERY GOOD

Supergirl #61
Written by James Peaty; art by Bernard Chang; DC

I was a little bit worried when Nick Spencer left the title after just one issue, but this issue reassured me that the book is still in good hands. James Peaty is presumably still working from Spencer's notes (although unlike JMS in Superman and Wonder Woman, Spencer is no longer credited) and continues in the same direction that was hinted at in the last issue. Peaty seems to have a good handle on all the characters, including Lois Lane and Damian Wayne who both have guest appearances. Supergirl's not a character I've had very much exposure to in the past, so it's a bit hard for me to judge how well Peaty is writing her compared to how her character has been previously established, but so far nothing strikes me as being off-key. Bernard Change's art is really nice, too.

GOOD

Marvel Girl (one-shot)
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov; art by Nuno Plati; Marvel

Hmm. I didn't realize when I bought this that it was some kind of tie-in to the X-Men: First Class movie. At least I think that's what it was, 'cause I don't really see why else this comic would exist. This wasn't bad, but it wasn't really anything special either. Nuno Plati's art is okay, if a bit cartoony. It would be perfect for an all-ages title, but I'm not sure it was the right fit for this story. My biggest problem though is I have a hard time really understanding what purpose this comic served. As a self-contained story, it feels very incomplete, but on the other hand it's not really leading into anything else, other than a movie I have very little interest in seeing. Unless you're a huge fan of the character, I'd say this one-shot can be safely ignored.

SKIP

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Canada Reads / Essex County: Follow up

Over at The National Post, Christopher Butcher, Darwyn Cooke and Jeet Heer offer some perspective on the Canada Reads panelists' rejection of Essex County. All three of them bring up some excellent points, some similar to my own (though expressed more eloquently).

Here's a quote from Darwyn Cooke:

The most devastating take away left me kind of stupefied and unable to imagine the sort of dusty mind that thinks this way. As several jurors spoke, it was clear that their number one criteria for disqualifying Essex County was… the number of words. They actually said the book didn’t have enough words to qualify as a book. Travis remarked on the word count and I was blind-sided by the fact that these people seemed unaware that every panel of that book is supported by a script filled with words-the words necessary to create and execute entire panels or scenes without any visible writing. The very process by which such a book is created was unknown to them. Particularly disappointing was Ali Velshi. Considering this cat spends his entire life reading American news off a teleprompter in Atlanta, he might have noticed that Time magazine’s book of the year was a graphic novel…FOUR YEARS AGO.
 Read the rest of the discussion here.

 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Irrelevant Thoughts

I've been receiving some hate mail from someone who turned out to be a somewhat well known troll who goes around message boards and gets angry at people he disagrees with. The funny thing is that he doesn't join the boards or engage in discussion on them. Instead, he copies the comments that angered him and sends them to the poster by e-mail, adding a few petty and juvenile remarks at the bottom.
What triggered this reaction from him in my case were some comments I posted on Gail Simone's message board:

Fans keep asking why [Cassandra Cain] isn't part of the Bat family anymore, and what this brief appearance [in Red Robin] established was that she exists somewhere out there but for now isn't interested in coming back. In other words, an in-story excuse for justifying not putting her in the books. Before that, it just seemed like every editor and writer at DC had forgotten she existed, but now they can point to that scene and say, no, no, she's not here because she doesn't want to be here. But the end result is the same. She's not in the books.
To this, dude responded that I was mixing up the word "fans" with "trolls." When I didn't immediately respond to his e-mail, he sent a second one, again quoting the above comment and adding, this time, that I was mixing up the word "fans" with "whiny fan boys." And then a few hours later, he sent me the same message again.

I won't mention him by name here, but if you're curious, here are a couple of examples of him doing the same thing to other people. I blocked him. End of story, I hope.

+

I just read Wolverine and Jubilee #2 and Phil Noto's art makes me swoon. It's so beautiful. I just want to look at it forever and lose myself in his panels. I was always a fan of his covers, but this mini-series is the first I've seen of his interior art and I want more.

This isn't quite a review. More like a gushing moment of pure admiration.

+

I have a lot of books I want to review over the coming weeks in addition to my usual coverage of monthly super-hero floppies. So many, in fact, that I'm feeling a little overwhelmed right now. And tonight I should be working on that Tim Drake post, but instead I'm just going to sit back read some comics. 'Cause I'm tired, and I spent all day subtitling some Family Guy episodes. (Which is more intellectually exhausting than you can imagine.)

+

Here's a drawing that I like:


It's Batman wearing legwarmers. Gail Simone said on Twitter than she wanted to see this and Mike Donohue obliged. These are the kinds of drawing I would make all the time if I could draw.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Top 5 DC covers for May 2011

I was planning to post the next installment of my Tim Drake from the Beginning series tonight, but life got in the way and now I'm too tired to wrap my mind around it. I'm about halfway done, so look for it later this week.

In the meantime, here are my five favourite DC covers for May 2011. Alphabetical order.

Batgirl #21 by Dustin Nguyen

Batwoman #2 by J.H. Williams III

Detective Comics #877 by Jock

Superboy #7 by Karl Kerschl

Teen Titans #95 by Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood

Monday, February 14, 2011

Is It Wednesday Yet?

Wolverine and Jubilee #2
New comics this week!

On my pull list:
  • Legion of Super Heroes #10 (DC)
  • Supergirl #61 (DC)
  • Wolverine and Jubilee #2 (Marvel)
  • Soldier Zero #5 (Boom)
I don't remember if I wrote anything about the first issue of Wolverine and Jubilee last month, but it was very, very good. Kathryn Immonen's script and Phil Noto were both lovely. Highly recommended if you can still find a copy. If not, I guess you can wait for the trade. (This is a limited series.) Preview.

Last issue of Supergirl was supposed to be the start of Nick Spencer's story arc, but he ended up leaving the title abruptly (probably to make room in his schedule for Secret Avengers at Marvel), so the issue was co-scripted with James Peaty, who then takes over completely with this issue. It was a good start, though, so we'll see if Peaty can keep the ball rolling or not. Bernard Chang does the art.

Soldier Zero #5 start a new story with the new writing team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. I bought all the issues of Paul Cornell's run, but I've fallen behind on reading them, so I'll try to catch up before this Wednesday. I feel like DnA are a better match for this title than Cornell was, so I'm looking forward to this one. Javier Pina is still the artist. Preview.

Also noteworthy:
  • Superman/Batman #81 (DC)
  • Captain Wonder 3D (one-shot) (Image)
  • Marvel Girl #1 (Marvel)
  • Silver Surfer #1 (Marvel)
  • Hawkeye: Blindspot #1 (Marvel)
  • Garth Ennis' Jennifer Blood #1 (Dynamite)
Superman/Batman #81 is the start of a new four-part story by writer Cullen Bunn and artist CrissCross. It sounds like a pretty wild story with some fantasy elements, as the cover for a later issue shows Superman holding a blazing sword and Batman riding a dragon! I think I'm going to sit this one out and maybe pick it up in trade, but I'll probably at least flip through it at the store.

In spite of my deep-seated hatred of all things 3D, I confess that Captain Wonder one-shot sounds pretty cool. The 48-page story was written by Brian Haberlin and features art by Phillip Tan. It comes with special 3D glasses.

I'm probably going to pick up Silver Surfer #1, which is the start of a mini-series by Greg Pak and Stephen Segovia. Unlettered preview.

For some reason, Marvel likes to make it incredibly difficult to figure out whether some of their comics solicited as #1's are one-shots, mini-series or ongoings, but I'm going to guess that Marvel Girl is a one-shot, based on the fact that there's no issue for it listed in the March solicits. Preview

Hawkeye: Blindspot is a four-part mini-series and is a follow-up to Widowmaker. Preview.

Garth Ennis' Jennifer Blood, as you might have guessed from the title, is a new series by Garth Ennis. Preview.
 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

One-paragraph reviews: Flash, Red Robin, Magus, Starborn

Flash #9
Written by Geoff Johns; art by Francis Manapul; DC

It's so good to have Francis Manapul back on this title. Scott Kolins's two-issue interlude was good, but Manapul's art just blows my mind. I know his style is not to everyone's liking, and some people feel that it's wrong for this particular book, but I coudln't disagree more. I love his clean layouts, the beautiful painted textures, the character's faces, the look of the city. There's always a strong sense that we are in a clear, distinct place, whether it's a random crime scene in a parking garage, or the park where Barry Allen's family is having a picnic, or the crime lab where he works. As for the story, this is like the introduction to the prelude to this summer's big event, "Flashpoint." It sets things up nicely, without any big surprises for anyone who's been paying attention to the hype around the event that's coming. I'm still not sure whether I'm onboard for this mega-event or not, but so far I've been very pleased with what Geoff Johns has been doing with this book.

GOOD

Starborn #3
Written by Chris Roberson; art by Khary Randolph; Boom

This continues to be my favourite of the three new Stan Lee comics from Boom Studios. I read a review somewhere that complained about how slow this issue was, but the pacing seems spot-on to me. Certainly easier to take in than the frenetic chaos of The Traveler. Considering we're only three issues in and the protagonist has gone from an aspiring writer with a boring office job to a hero with high-tech weapons apparently being attacked by several difference alien races simultaneously, I think there's plenty going on. There's one part I thought was really clever in this issue, where he's learning how to use a weapon that is controlled by his mind. He's instructed to visualize a blue sphere inside a glass pyramid, which initiates the weapon, and then to picture the sphere turning red, which triggers it. It's really weird and abstract, and yet you can sort of see how it might actually work. I hope we'll eventually learn more about this mental visual interface, because it's kind of fascinating. The only thing I'm not a very big fan of in this series is the colouring by Mitch Gerads. It's way too dark and the colours seem oversaturated, though the problem might be with the printing.

GOOD

Magus #2
Written by Jon Price; art by Rebekah Isaacs; 12-Gauge

I'm mostly getting this for Rebekah Isaacs' art, which I think is very, very good. The premise, in a nutshell, is that magic is returning to the world, causing a lot of chaos. There's nothing particularly remarkable about the story so far and the characters seem a little bit flat. The problem is that there wasn't really any setting up. Before the end of the first issue, these characters, whom we'd just met, had their whole lives turned upside down. There's a lot happening in several locations with characters that individually have very little total on-panel time, so I feel like all we're getting is a very superficial look at these events. Still, it is a cool premise and I'm curious to know where it's going to go. I've seen conflicting information about whether this is just a mini-series or the start of an ongoing. I hope it's an ongoing because I don't think this will be satisfying as a limited series, but with more time to establish the characters and the world they live in, it could develop into something very good. Especially with such gorgeous, top-notch art.

OKAY

Red Robin #20
Written by Fabian Nicieza; art by Marcus To and Ray McCarthy; DC

Something about this book keeps getting on my nerves, and I'm having a really hard time figuring out exactly what it is. Maybe I'm just not a fan of Fabian Nicieza's writing style. It relies too much on narration. I think he expression "show, don't tell" is often an oversimplification that gets abused a little, but in this case I think it might apply. I just get the impression that we're constantly in Tim's head and he's explaining everything to us, and it doesn't help that what he's explaining is really convoluted and barely makes any sense half the time. Like, what exactly is Catman doing in this comic? Did the Russian mobster hire him, or was it the Calculator? And to do what, exactly? The issue then derails into a crossover with the Teen Titans, which was actually kind of nice. Tim reuniting with the gang and bossing everyone around. And Nicieza has a much better handle on Damian's character and voice than Krul does (in Teen Titans). Marcus To's art remains solid.

OKAY

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Five Images

World's Finest by Evan Dorkin

Batman by Joe Quinones

Emma Frost by Janet K. Lee

Namor by Joe Sinnott

Shade the Changing Man by Mike Hawthorne

Friday, February 11, 2011

One-paragraph reviews: Batgirl, Batman and Robin, Birds of Prey

Batgirl #18
Written by Bryan Q. Miller; art by Dustin Nguyen with Derek Fridolfs; DC

Klarion the Witch-Boy is such an adorable character that even with average writing and art, this issue would've probably been worth reading. As it turns out, though, this is much better than average. Dustin Nguyen alternates between two different art styles - painted watercolours and more traditional pencils (inked by Derek Fridolfs). The two styles are very different and clash with each other, but this is actually used to great effect. Aside from the first and last page, which are painted and very stylized, the rule seems to be that the magical elements are in watercolour and the Gotham elements are in pencil and ink. So when Batgirl gets trapped in Klarion's magic globe, she's painted, but everything outside the globe is drawn. Later, in a sequence where they travel to Limbo town, the painted look takes over the entire page. The only thing that I thought didn't work with the painted style was the obviously digitized lettering that seems to float on top of the image, rather than blend in. The sound effects were particularly distracting. This is a minor point, though. On the writing side, Bryan Q. Miller as usual inserts a lot of humour and quirk into his script. It's like Stephanie Brown's personality is so overwhelming that it can't be contained within her and it infects the tone of the entire book. I like it.

GOOD

Batman and Robin #20
Written by Peter J. Tomasi; art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray; DC

I'm not 100% convinced that this new creative team will hold my interest for very long, but it's off to a strong start. The first half of the issue was especially good, opening with a light-hearted moment between Bruce, Alfred and the boys, and then moving on to Dick and Damian working together. Tomasi seems to have a pretty good grip on the characters, although I wasn't quite convinced by the scene where Gordon twists Robin's arm into submission. I appreciate the point Tomasi was trying to make - that Damian's bullshit isn't going to be tolerated - but I just think Damian being the trained assassin that he is would have been able to get out of that lock without any problem. The second half of the issue was mostly just a single chase/fight scene, which, in spite of Gleason's prowess and the splashiness of his art, was a little confusing and difficult to follow at times. I'm still not sure I fully understand what the hell happened in those last three pages, which may or may not have been intentional. Overall, I enjoyed it, and I'm going to finish the tree-issue arc before I decide whether to keep this on my pull list or not.

GOOD

(I should point out, though, that Cassandra fans are understandably pissed off at the way DC keeps ignoring her and rubbing it in. Bruce's line about being with "the whole family" certainly felt like adding salt to the wound.)

Birds of Prey #9
Written by Gail Simone; art by Inaki Miranda; DC

For all I know, this issue may have started with a good script, but, man, the art really doesn't do it justice. What I've come to realize since the unfortunate relaunch of Birds of Prey is that Gail Simone's writing is very kinetic. Things are always in motion. There is great dialogue and character development and deeply emotional scenes, but it all happens in the midst of near-constant chaos and action and people fighting. Which is great! It's perfect for the super-hero comic book genre and it's part of what makes Gail Simone's writing so unique. The downside, however, is that this type of writing requires an artist who can do the material justice. Otherwise, it just seems like a big mess. Since the second issue of this series, it's been just one fill-in artist after another, and this latest one is the most mediocre so far. I used to complain about Ed Benes' art, because I was never of fan of the endless crotch shots and camel toes, but in retrospect, I realize that at least was able to tell a story effectively. We're near the end of what should be a really important arc, and it really falls flat because it's just not getting the art it deserves.

I'm going to rate this one OKAY, although it would be a DROP if it weren't for the fact that I know there are better artists taking over in a couple of issues. If you're not currently reading this, I strongly suggest you wait until issue #11 or #12 before picking it up.

Jeff Lemire's Essex County should have won the Canada Reads competition

Earlier this week, I tried to write a post about Jeff Lemire's Essex County getting voted off the Canada Reads competition. But as I listened to the debate and took notes, I just grew so frustrated with some of the comments being made - not just about the book but about the form of graphic novels or comic books in general - that I decided to put it aside and wait a day or two. In my haste to distance myself from the whole thing, I neglected to save my notes, and now I have to start over from scratch.

For those of you reading this from outside of Canada and who are not familiar with the competition or what it represents for the Canadian literary scene, rather than try to summarize it for you I will simply point you in the direction of Jeet Heer's Walrus article on the subject. Or, if that's too long and you just want a quick summary, check out his brief post at Comics Comics.

Essex County was the first graphic novel to make it all the way to the five finalists that are debated on the air each year. While this was a significant milestone and it gave it an edge in the competition, it was also ultimately its downfall. Every interview or discussion or critique of the book started with broad comments about the form, and what it means for a graphic novel to be part of the competition, whether it can even be considered a novel, let alone one that can be compared in terms of value or merit or impact or significance to more traditional literature. As a result, there was hardly any discussion of Jeff Lemire's work and what is unique about it, because so much attention was spent talking about the form. The book being part of the competition became less about this particular work of fiction by this specific artist with a unique voice in Canadian (and worldwide) literature, and more about the entire medium's struggle to be taken seriously and accepted as art. In other words, the same tired old debate people have been having since the term "graphic novel" was invented. A debate that I'd like to think most of us who read comics are over.

Nevertheless, seeing Jeff Lemire get so much attention from mainstream media - and seeing the significant boost in sales that Essex County got as a result (it's currently #8 on Amazon.ca's bestsellers list)  - made me really happy. And I really thought the book had a good chance to make it all the way to the end and win the top spot in the competition. So I was surprised when it was eliminated on the very first day.

Jeff Lemire is taking it pretty well. After admitting that "it stings a bit more than [he] thought it would," he spends the bulk of his post focusing on the positive. And rightly so. He deserves be proud of his accomplishment.

Still, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I'm very disappointed. It's not so much the fact that the book didn't win, but more the way that the debate took shape in that one-hour broadcast earlier this week. Not only was Essex County the first book to get dumped, but it was a near unanimous decision, with all four panelists except Sara Quin (who was championing the graphic novel) voting against it.

Some of the comments made by the other panelists were outrageous and infuriating. Here are some of the arguments they made against the book.

Ali Velshi brought up that part of Canada Reads' mandate is to promote literacy, and he didn't think that Essex County would be of any help in that regard:
I didn't want to read Essex County, because I didn't understand why it's on [the panel]. And I read it and I found it very moving. [But] it can't be the primary book that we call the most essential novel, because that's not how we are going inspire people to read. That's like the new iPod. It may be really neat, it may be the future...
At this point he was interrupted, but he came back to that idea later and added:
I am coming into this competition with the very committed idea (...) that I need this to end up as a competitiont that causes people to read more, and I'm not sure [Essex County] is that solution. (...) I don't think that's gonna solve our problems of low literacy levels. I don't think that's gonna solve our problem of creative and interpretive thinking.
Well, I think that's a pretty stupid criterion to be basing the literary or artistic merit of a book on, and I'm not sure it should be what the panelists are basing their votes on at all. But even if it were, his argument doesn't hold for two reasons: First, there's absolutely no evidence that graphic novels don't encourage people to read more. In fact, I would be inclined to believe that exactly the opposite is true. And second, the ability to read and understand comics is also a kind of literacy, and one might argue that it is just as important as knowing how to read prose. Interpreting images, being conscious of how they convey meaning, learning how to read - yes, read! - them is just as vitally important in developing "creative and interpretive thinking" as reading prose is. 

Lorne Cardinal's arguments made even less sense:
Essex County is a gateway to reading. I love the book, I love the form, but in my view it is not a novel. (...) Then we have the other end of the spectrum, a Pulitzer-prize winning novelist whose whole life is words, making words and stories, and making you think. It's what literature should be. It should be a way to get people to think of things that they don't normally... Think of things instead of things, you know, like iPods.
Think of things instead of things? And because Jeff Lemire is not a Pulitzer-winning novelist, his story doesn't make you think of things? Whatever. The most bewildering thing about Cardinal's vote against Essex County was that when asked which characters he found most memorable, from the four books other than the one he was defending, he picked the characters from Lemire's book. But I guess they didn't make him think of "things," or maybe they made him think of the wrong kinds of things, so he had to vote against it?

Georges Laraque didn't really have a lot of say about the book, so I'll skip over his remarks.

And last, but certainly not least, here's what Debbie Travis said:
I think it's a nice book. It really is a good book. But as the essential novel? It's like saying tweeting with 140 character gets you writing. No, it doesn't get you writing. It actually takes it in the other direction. So the danger of that book... I think this is a shortcut. I read this in an hour and a half.
Apparently, she's doesn't realize how insulting it is to compare someone's work - all the years of developing their craft and style and storytelling talent - to a 140-character posts on fucking Twitter! And when host Jian Ghomeshi pointed out that even though she read it in an hour an a half, you could spend more time with the book, she simply responded, "No, you can't."

On the one hand, Debbie Travis' comments are the most infuriating, but on the other hand we shouldn't get too worked up about them because they hold the less weight. She dismisses the book as fluff and is unwilling to engage with the work on a deeper level, so that pretty much disqualifies her from really saying anything meaningful about it. At least Ali Velshi admitted to being moved by the book and was surprised by how much depth it had, even though he was originally skeptical of the form. He voted against it for ideological reasons, but there's nothing to suggest that he didn't treat it seriously.

Debbie Travis didn't even take the competition itself too seriously. Right from the start, she said she didn't care about any of the books except the one she was defending. So why bother reading them carefully? In fact, why bother reading them at all? In the second round of debate (after Essex County had been eliminated) she admitted that she never bothered to finish one of the novels because it was too boring to hold her interest. Mind-bogglingly, the book she couldn't finish was Best Laid Plans, which ultimately won the competition and which she never once voted against! How does that make any sense?

When the votes were counted after the first round, Sara Quin was visibly disappointed, and (without using those words) she more or less told the other panelists that they were a bunch of old-fashioned elitists too afraid to take risks:
I'm disappointed but not surprised. I do think you represent the demographic that isn't gonna read this book, and I think it's a shame because it's a retro sort of idea. These types of books are accepted as novels. And I do think that this is the type of book that's gonna grab a younger viewership. And these books are all great, but they are more more traditional and safe, and I totally understand why this book would scare people, especially with the tight upper neck... 
It got a laugh from the audience and scoffs from the other panelists.

To end this on a positive note, I'll mention that Essex County won in the People's Choice poll, getting over 50% of the votes. To me, that really shows the mass appeal that Lemire's work truly has. I sincerely believe that Essex County should have won, and that a lot of Canadians would have enjoyed reading it and would have been surprised by what it had to offer. Of course, the ones that really want to read it can still do so - nobody's stopping them just because it was voted off the competition. But it would have been nice for it to have that symbolic victory.

Anyway. Congratulations, Jeff Lemire. Still a remarkable achievement.

(Related post: Jeff Lemire at Drawn and Quarterly)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Five Images

Batman and Robin by Freddie Williams II

Batman by Ardian Syaf

Catwoman by Reilly Brown

Solomon Grundy by Ryan Sook

Wildcat by Evan "Doc" Shaner

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Five reasons to love Paul Cornell's Action Comics

Action Comics #890
Recently, the Mindless Ones tore Paul Cornell to shreds in a podcast full of "sniggering snark" (to use B. Clay Moore's expression).

I have to agree with them that Knight and Squire has been disappointing. As they said, Cornell should stop talking about England and just tell a super-hero story that is set in England. I was so underwhelmed by the mini-series that I decided to stop buying it just two issues before its conclusion.

I couldn't disagree more, however, with what the Mindless Ones had to say about Cornell's ongoing story "The Black Ring" from Action Comics. I thought their critique was unfair and most of their arguments amounted to pointless nitpicking. Failing to see the forest for the trees, they obsessed over bits of dialogue that, granted, sound pretty absurd taken out of context, but aren't really that outrageous when you consider that this is a fictional universe in which aliens that look identical to humans develop the ability to fly and shoot lasers out of their eyes when exposed to our yellow sun's rays.

Cornell's story makes at least as much sense as any other outrageous story found in books published by Marvel and DC every month, and it's unclear to me why the Mindless Ones demand from it a level of realism rarely found in super-hero comics. I'm also pretty sure that Cornell knows how absurd some of his dialogue is. He's aware of how silly all of it is and is banking on the fact that his audience accepts that and is willing to go along for the ride. Maybe I give him too much credit, but I find it difficult to believe that Cornell could have Vandal Savage talk about Luthor "meddling with his pustules" and be oblivious of just how utterly ridiculous that sounds.

Maybe the Mindless Ones just have higher standards than I do. It's true that "The Black Ring" is not without its flaws. I, too, have problems with the way the story is structured around a "villain of the month," and I think some of the individual issues fall a bit flat. (The ones featuring Deathstroke, Vandal Savage and the Secret Six were the weakest so far.) But overall I think Action Comics is one of the best books that DC currently publishes. And here are five reasons why I love it:

1. Robot Lois Lane

It's too bad there is no way of promoting the awesomeness of this character without spoiling the surprise in the first issue of "The Black Ring". From her first appearance, it was clear that something weird was going on with this version of Lois Lane. Why is she having dinner with Luthor? Why is he casually discussing his plans with her? Why is she acting so out of character? Has he brainwashed her? Is she just playing along and manipulating him? Is she a clone? Out of all the possible explanations, one that didn't occur to when I first read the issue was that she was in fact a robot. So 23 pages into the story, when Luthor suddenly tells her to go into safe mode – to which she replies, "Wha-- *glurrk*" – before he pulls the skin off her face to reveal the metal skeleton underneath – it was both shocking and exciting. Luthor's assistant then reveals that she was constructed from parts coming from Kryptonian Brainiac technology, some of which they're not even sure what they're for, which would freak anybody out except an overconfident egomaniac like Luthor. And then, as if that wasn't already amazing enough, when they get attacked, Luthor reactivates her and tells her to go into "smash mode." The next page is pure over-the-top madness: the red eyes, the impossibly excessive artillery, and best of all: "Grrr!"

Action Comics #890

This is simply one of the best character introductions I've ever read. Cornell had to then deliver on the promise of that exciting debut, and I think he succeeds. Robot Lois Lane is my favourite character in the series, and her scenes are almost always the highlight of even the weakest issues. She's sophisticated, stylish, intelligent, funny, and as I always suspected but is only now becoming clear, she has her own agenda. Her personality comes from a combination of the Brainiac technology she's built from, sampled Lois Lane DNA, and the way she was programmed by Luthor to challenge him and offer an outside perspective. These are three different and probably incompatible forces pulling her in different directions and making her a very complex character.

2. Lex Luthor

I think Lex Luthor is a fascinating character, but it takes a really good writer to be able to make him a compelling protagonist in a story of this length. And here too I think Cornell succeeds brilliantly. He writes Luthor as a calm and charismatic genius who is so full of himself that he is almost completely oblivious to some of the ways in which he's making a fool of himself. The best issues so far have been the ones that focused more on characterization than action (which is a bit ironic, given the title of the series), like the ones featuring Death (#894) or the Joker (#897). 

3. The humour

There are usually at least a couple of laugh-out-loud moments in every issue. Sometimes it's in the dialogue. Other times it's just something Lex Luthor does that reveals how much of a boob he really is. And most often, it's just the sheer over-the-top absurdity of what's going on that just makes it funny. Like Gorilla Grodd trying to bite Lois' head off and finding out she's made of metal (in #893), or the fact that a singing magical pony is a recurring plot point. It just feels like Cornell is having fun writing these stories and that fun transfers to my reading experience.

4. The story

Never mind that this ties into Blackest Night and the whole Green Lantern emotional spectrum mythology. Never mind that the reason this story even exists is that Superman happens to be taking a walk across America in the most boring super-hero story of all time. And never mind that Luthor's quest for orbs of black energy on the surface seems like an excuse to feature a different villain every month. In spite of all that, there is a story being told here, and it's not nearly as nonsensical or difficult to piece together as the Mindless Ones would have us believe.

It's a story that is being revealed in small increments, and it requires both patience and a fair amount of suspension of disbelief. I can see how someone picking up a random issue or analyzing bits of dialogue out of context would get frustrated by how esoteric it is, but if you've been following it from the start, it shouldn't be that hard to figure out.

Of course, we won't know for sure until issue #900 whether it all holds together and comes to a satisfying conclusion or not. But with all the hints that have been dropped so far, I think it has the potential to be pretty amazing. We've got two unseen, major antagonist pulling strings for unknown reasons: whomever Robot Lois Lane is working for (my guess is Brainiac) and whomever Mister Mind is working for (my guess is maybe Cyborg Superman, which would tie neatly this into the Reign of Doomsday event). We know that Robot Lois has planted the scientific articles that sent Luthor on his quest in the first place. And we also know that Death herself has taken an interest in all this. So all signs point to the shit hitting the fan in a major way before the story concludes, which of course will also coincide with the return of Superman to the title in issue #900.

5. Pete Woods' art

I know Paul Cornell can't take credit for this one, but I think it's more than fair to mention Pete Woods' art as one of the contributing factors to the story's success. His Robot Lois Lane is stunning, and I don't mean in terms of how hot she is, but more in the sense that she seems like a real character, with her own style and mannerisms and facial expressions. Pete Woods really brings her to life, and I think he does the same for Lex Luthor and even for the minor characters like his assistant, Spalding. He doesn't necessarily do anything visually striking or innovative with the layouts, but he's a good storyteller. And it's nice to have a consistent artist on a DC book, which seems like a real luxury these days. (It's a shame that David Finch's covers are so unappealing compared to the interior art.)

So if you haven't been reading this, I think you're missing out. Since Cornell took over in issue #890, Action Comics has been loads of fun, and if my predictions are accurate, the milestone issue #900 in April is going to be spectacular.
 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Is It Wednesday Yet?

Batgirl #18
New comics this week!

On my pull list:
  • Adventure Comics #523 (DC)
  • Batgirl #18 (DC)
  • Batman and Robin #20 (DC)
  • Birds of Prey #9 (DC)
  • Flash #9 (DC)
  • Red Robin #20 (DC)
  • Northlanders #37 (Vertigo)
  • Casanova: Gula #2 (Icon)
  • Magus #2 (12-Gauge)
  • Starborn #3 (Boom)
Whoa! This is a big (and expensive) week for me. Good thing I decided to drop Knight and Squire, which also comes out this week.

Batgirl is the newest addition to my pull list. I bought it last month because it was a done-in-one story featuring Damian, and it was so awesome that I immediately decided to add it to my list. This issue is another done-in-one (I think) featuring Klarion the Witch-boy.

I dropped Batman and Robin when Morrison's run ended and Paul Cornell took over. I love Cornell's Action Comics, but his story here seemed like a rushed filler to give the new team of Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason some breathing room before they took over the title. That break is now over and here they are. I'm still a little bit on the fence about it, but the preview at The Source was pretty good, so I decided to give it a try.

Flash #9 is the first official Flashpoint-related title (unless you count the Time Masters: Vanishing Point mini-series that recently ended with a "to be continued in Flashpoint"). Geoff Johns is going to start setting things up for this summer's gigantic crossover event.

Red Robin #20 is the first part of a two-issue crossover story that concludes in next month's Teen Titans. Preview here.

Northlanders #37 starts a new story called "The Siege of Paris," with art by Simon Gane.

Also noteworthy:
  • Onslaught Unleashed #1 (Marvel)
  • Power Man and Iron Fist #1 (Marvel)
  • Wolverine #1000 (Marvel)
  • Lil' Depressed Boy #1 (Image)
  • Sherlock Holmes: Year One #1 (Dynamite)
  • Buck Rogers Annual #1 (Dynamite)
Onslaught Unleashed is a four-part mini-series featuring Young Allies and Secret Six, written by Sean McKeever, with art by Filipe Andrade. Preview here.

Power Man and Iron Fist is a five-issue mini-series written by Fred Van Lente, with art by Wellinton Alves and Nelson Pereira. Preview here.

Wolverine #1000 is a "super-sized special" featuring a lot of creative people, for five bucks. I'd be tempted if my pull list wasn't already so heavy this week. Preview here.


And here are links to previews for Lil' Depressed Boy, Sherlock Holmes and Buck Rogers.

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