The Week in Ink: 9-27-06
Unlike the unfortunate dry spell we suffered through last time, this week's comics feature a truly incredible amount of kicks to the face. Seriously, if anything, I've been spoiled for choice, to the point where I thought it was going to be a pretty difficult decision.
But then again...
When Captain America is doing Guile from Street Fighter II's patented Flash Kick, there's not really a competition at all, is there?
And just in case you've been following the ISB's Brief History of Team America--which concludes tomorrow in the all-out no-holds-barred finale you demanded--don't worry. I've got a little something for you, too:
That'll have to hold you over for tonight, though, because tonight belongs to reviews and commentary on the comic books for the fourth week of September, 2006!
52: Week Twenty-One: I'm not sure whether the cover blurb for this one--"You asked for it! Infinity, Inc.!"--is meant to be satisfying or threatening, but even so, I'm left wondering just who exactly was clamoring for the return of comics most maligned super-team? It certainly wasn't me; I've been spending all my time lobbying for a Champions relaunch. Anyway, with only two pages given over to Ralph Dibny and no Secret Origin backup, the majority of the book is given over to Lex Luthor's super-team, and it's pretty enjoyable--even if the joke about having four writers is virtually the same one Keith Giffen did with Captain Atom back in Formerly Known as the Justice League.
Even so, it's notable for having the first real appearances of Little Barda and Power Boy, and while I'm not usually in the habit of tossing my personal theories out there, I like the idea that they both come from the Fourth World. I picture Little Barda as the Supertown equivalent of Tim Drake or Kid Devil, and Power Boy seems like he'd fit right in as a Hunger Dog who makes good. It's fun stuff, even if the whole thing does seem a bit obvious and sloppy by Lex Luthor's usual standards.
Action Comics #843: As much as I love the covers for these issues--especially the capital letter emphasis added into the box on the upper-right that reads like something I'd write--the story itself generally left me pretty cold. Still, there are some high points as Busiek and Nicieza work with one of the wackiest team-ups I've ever seen and do a very nice job of making Superman's motley crew work, and by the time it was all over, I liked this issue more than any of the previous installments. It's perfectly serviceable, but trust me: it reads like a stock plot Busiek's had laying around for an occasion when he needed a story out the door quickly.
All-New Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z #9: If there's one concept better than a Soviet cosmonaut and his super-powered monkeys, it's the fact that I now own a piece of reference material with three pages on said commies and their various criminal exploits. Even beyond the Red Ghost, though, this issue's the closest the ANOHOTMUAZ has gotten to having a "must-have" issue, since it contains not only a mention of Ulysses Solomon Archer (of US 1 "fame") in Razorback's entry and all the information you need to catch up on the ISB-favorite New Scorpion, but also profiles the Scorpion's mother Monica Rappacini in a segment that closes with this sentence:
Note: In an alternate future timeline of Earth-6216, Monica's granddaughter Varina Goddard attempted to assassinate the United Nations Secretary General with an alien Death's Head robot housing synthetic Uni-Power
...which I'm sure clears up all of your questions.
Batman 657: As much as I love John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake--both individually and together--the fact that we're getting a four-issue fill-in story instead of Morrison and Kubert over the next few months doesn't exactly thrill me, especially considering that right now, the Batman books are more flat-out entertaining than they've been in years, even including the wildly underppareciated Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker runs. This issue's no exception, and although it didn't quite get me as excited as last month's--owing, I suspect, to a distinct lack of ninja Man-Bats, which are turning out even better than I thought they would--it's still absolutely fantastic. Batman showing his parenting skills is something usually only seen in Robin, and with this one, it's incredibly fun to see Batman giving some tough love to a kid that I assume is a lot like he was at that age. You know, without smacking him in the face and leaving him in the dark to eat rats, I mean.
The story's working out to be some excellent stuff, with a fun subplot and a dynamite last few pages, and Andy Kubert's art has never been better, especially in the full-page shot of Batman swinging over Gotham City while wearing one of his rarely-seen forty-foot capes. Highly entertaining stuff.
Batman and the Mad Monk #2: If you haven't already read Matt Wagner's Batman and the Monster Men--recently released in trade paperback for your convenience--you really, really ought to: Not only is it one of the best Batman stories in recent memory, but it may just be one of the best comics Wagner's ever done, and that guy's not exactly a slouch. And considering that it was originally slated to be part of the same twelve-issue mini-series retelling some of Batman's earliest stories, it's no surprise that Mad Monk is shaping up to be every bit as awesome. With Batman fighting a mad cult of vampires and great character moments from Jim Gordon set against a Year-One backdrop, it's fun, accessable, well-done, and pretty much everything that All-Star Batman should've been. Only better.
Bite Club: Vampire Crime Unit #5: As much as Bite Club v.1 was structured as a classic tragedy based around Leto Del Toro's fall from grace as the head of his mobbed-up vampire crime family, these five issues have essentially done the same with Risa, starting her on top and ending with a pretty thorough--but not insurmountable--defeat that makes for a highly enjoyable read. Plus, don't miss Howard Chaykin's excellent typeface-related joke on page 18. It's sans-serific!
Blue Beetle #7: After being pretty underwhelmed for the first six issues to the point where I was all set to give Blue Beetle the proverbial axe, I actually ended up enjoying this one quite a bit. Oddly enough, it features--finally--the return of Cully Hamner to pencils, thus bringing his "regular artist" credit up to a whopping 57% accuracy, while at the same time being the first issue without Keith Giffen doing the script with John Rogers. Not that either one of those is necessarily a bad thing--I like Giffen quite a bit, but Rogers acquits himself nicely with a story telling what exactly happened to the new Blue Beetle during Infinite Crisis. If you've been curious about the title but managed to dodge the first six issues, this is the one to check out. Especially with the great Black Canary/Green Arrow moment as they fight OMACs aboard Brother Eye.
Captain America #22: Considering that he's easily one of the best writers working today, it's no surprise that Ed Brubaker's written the best Civil War tie-in yet, or that it deals with the events of the crossover while seamlessly advancing his own plots at the same time. What can I say? The guy's good, and he works with good people: Mike Perkins does a fine job filling in for Steve Epting (although to be fair, Sharon Carter and Maria Hill do look more like teenage models than SHIELD agents on page three), and I suspect that he owes a lot of it to Frank D'Armata, whose muted, heavily shaded coloring has done a lot to set the tone of the book and keep things looking smooth through multiple pencillers.
Civil War: Young Avengers and Runaways #3: And speaking of coloring, while it's still a far cry from the excellent work Christina Strain and Justin Ponsor do on the ongoing titles, Daniele Rudoni's coloring from this issue is a marked improvement from the last. Of course, considering that the last issue looked like the Rainbow Raider threw up on it, this one almost had to be better. Seriously, though, everyone's still weirdly pallid and monochromatic, but as I said before, Rudoni's technique seems to work better in exterior scenes, and, well, this one's just a big fight in the woods, and since he got by with two pages of solid white backgrounds, he probably had a little more time to work with. Anyway, the story itself continues to be a fairly passable treatment of the main characters, although I'm still not quite happy with the way Zeb Wells is writing Noh-Varr, especially with the odd fragment quoted from the narrations of Morrison's Marvel Boy right on page one. At best, it's odd, and at worst, it could turn out to be a phenomenal waste of some great character potential.
Daredevil #89: Remember all that stuff I said up there about Brubaker being one of the best writers working in comics today? Yeah, it still applies, as this issue sees a fugitive Matt Murdock take on the seedy underbelly of Monco in a story that involves both face-kicking and a man fighting lions, with a script that's probably better than any comic featuring those elements has ever had before, all set to the tune of Michael Lark's pitch-perfect artwork. Fantastic.
Eternals #4: At this point, John Romita Jr. could pretty much just draw Celestials, Eternals, Deviants, and other assorted Weirdies for the rest of his career, and I'd be perfectly happy to buy anything he cared to put out. That guy is rad, and this issue shows off his talents better than anything in the first half of the series, and--not coincidentally--it's also the best of the run so far. It's reasonably telegraphed, but Gaiman's script finally seems to have settled into heading for where it's going to end up, and after the clumsy use of Druig's powers in #3, it was nice to see a far more subtle and well-handled version employed agains this enemies in this issue. It's not the best thing he's ever written, and barring anything wildly spectacular in the next two issues, I'm not expecting it to wind up all that great, but, well, it sure is pretty.
Hawkgirl: Have I mentioned lately how much I love Walt Simonson's run on Thor? Seriously, as much as I'm going to lose Mike Sterling's friendship for saying it, it's the only run of comics I've ever read that I think is actually better than Alan Moore on Swamp Thing. And that, my friends, is why I'm still reading Hawkgirl despite the fact that it may be the worst non-Nightwing book to come out of DC's One Year Later titles. In this issue: Hawkgirl and her double-jointed hips battle Khimaera, Hath-Set, and a giant tentacular space vagina that sucks everything into the gaping maw of Lovecraftian space. And in this case, the operative word is "sucks."
Invincible #35: Despite my recent disillusionment with Walking Dead, my disappointment in the way the last Marvel Team-Up story-arc ended, and my all around dissatisfaction with the last story in Ultimate X-Men, Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley's Invincible is still one of the books I look forward to each month, and this issue's a perfect example why. He manages to advance three ongoing subplots, lead off with a fight scene, and still devote the bulk of the story to a genuine and entertaining sequence where his title character sits down with a family friend to hash out his trouble with women. I've said it often, but it's exceptionally entertaining in the same way that makes classic Spider-Man stories so enjoyable, but with way more outer-space infinity-ray alien fighting. And that, for the record, is a good thing.
Jack of Fables #3: I've been singing this book's praises as loud as I can to anybody who will listen for three months now, and for good reason: It's one of those rare comic books where there is something incredible--a line from Willingham and Sturges, a panel from Akins and Pepoy, or all of it coming together--on every single page, and that, my friends, is not an exaggeration. This issue's no exception, either, as Jack finally steps fully out of his riff on The Prisoner and organizes a conspiracy to escape from Golden Boughs, and while I have a nagging suspicion that his escape plan's going to work about as well as No. 6's always did, I have absolutely no problem with that. Just seeing the characters that Willingham and Sturges are pulling out to populate the place--which this time around includes fabledom's most famous racers, for instance--is worth the price of admission alone, even without the fantastic book built around them. Plus, not to spoil anything, but this one's got my favorite line of the week on page 21. Don't miss it.
Justice League of America #2: I have a strong personal distaste for the way that Brad Meltzer constantly uses everyone's first names in the captions, but seriously: If Vixen says the name of whatever animal she's tapping into every time she uses her powers, this is going to be the most annoying comic book ever printed. Not that it really needs the help at this point. After all, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have been sitting around a table with a stack of VS System trading cards for three issues, trying to figure out who to put into the League, and yet the team we already know they're going to end up with is already doing the legwork on a string of obviously interconnected cases. So it's either going to end up as an amazing coincidence that these guys are exactly who the Big 3 picked, or that it was just a monumental waste of time to have them sitting around discussing the merits of Firestorm.
And that's the thing: It's almost good. Dr. Impossible, the missing super-villains, the Parasite being used to mask villains--those are all interesting and well-done elements, but when it's stacked up against Superman and Wonder Woman pulling the biggest dick move in League history as they vote on whether they should let Batman into the League while they are sitting in his house with him standing five feet away, it really just doesn't work. At the very least, I imagine he was the tiebreaker in a lot of those votes, so maybe they should've decided if he was still in the club before they started voting on everyone else. Jesus, I would've kept files on them, too.
Even without that, though, it's already on shaky ground when Meltzer cranks it up a notch and completely obliterates the entire issue with a single panel. Specifically, it's panel one of page fourteen, wherein the Big Three are discussing the prospect of letting Kimiyo Hoshi, the heroic Dr. Light, into the League. The dialogue--told, of course, in color-coded captions--is as follows, and I quote:
SUPERMAN: Dr. Light?
BATMAN: It sends a message, Clark.
WONDER WOMAN: We don't need that message. It's not appropriate, Bruce.
BATMAN: It'll scare them.
Okay, now I don't know how you intepret that little scene, but for me, it means only one thing, and that is this: Holy shit, Brad Meltzer's Batman wants criminals to think he's going to rape them! And yeah: That pretty much says it all.
Punisher #38: Just for the record, not even the Punisher wants his enemies to think that. Just sayin'.
She-Hulk #12: As much as I like Dan Slott--and the record will show that I like his comics quite a bit indeed--he comes more than a little hypocritical in this issue. He is, after all, the guy who broke the fourth wall to have one of his characters tell the comics readers of the Marvel Universe that the best way to solve minor continuity gaffes was to invent solutions of their own out of respect for the creators and a love for the universe, and while that's perfectly fine, there's a small dig at what Thanos has been up to in recent years when he appears at Starfox's trial. I'll be the first person to cop to preferring the huge, Starlinesque "Let's go get the Infinity Gauntlet, punch out Galactus, and go to war with the Skrull Empire" style Thanos stories than the Keith Giffen religious pilgrim angle, but, well, it happened just as much as Thanos getting beaten up by Squirrel Girl in GLA happened, and casually dismissing it while it's still being played out in other books is hardly the best way to deal with it. That doesn't neccessarily make this a bad comic book by any means--there's a lot to enjoy about it, including some pretty wild stuff about Thanos himself--it's disappointing coming from Slott. Unless, of course, this is all part of some grand hoax.
Snakes on a Plane #2: Even among movie adaptations--a genre that, aside from 1991's Rocketeer of course, are useless across the board--the comic book version of the world's #1 animal-on-a-vehicle movie is astoundingly worthless. Mostly, as I've said before, because it reads like they took every third page of the film's script and just drew what was happening without making an attempt to connect the events, and, well, let's face it: That script wasn't exactly the most cogent narrative in the history of cinema to begin with.
So why did I drop my hard-earned cash for a copy? Because it has panels like this:
And that is solid gold in any medium.
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #10: Along with the usual fun, highly entertaining story of high school drama and occasioanal super-heroing, this issue contains a lettercolumn announcement that series artist Takeshi Miyazawa will be leaving the book after #15, and while that's an incredible bummer for fans of his work on the Mary Jane titles--like me--I can fully understand why he's doing it. One of the things that stuck out to me from Alan Moore's Writing for Comics was Moore's comment that to truly get better, you have to constantly challenge yourself with new and different projects, and I imagine the same thing goes for an artist, even if it means leaving the best teen romance comic since Bob Kanigher stopped writing Young Love. Still, it'll be a shame to see him go, as his style works so well with the book, and over the past couple of years has come to define it as much as Sean McKeever's scripts. As for this particular issue, I will say this: I absolutely love last pages in comics, and while I get excited about them often, this one got me more ecited than anything else I saw this week.
Yes. Even Ultimates.
Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #22: Another fine issue from Waid, Kitson, Bedard, Dekraker, and the rest, this time focusing largely on the perpetually lovelorn Karate Kid. Alas, Val, the path of a face-kicking future space teen badass is a lonely one indeed. Just be glad you're not being punched to death on your honeymoon. Yet.
Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #40: Usually, Tarot comes with a friendly "suggested for mature readers" label slapped on the cover just in case the you somehow missed the cover itself, but this issue claims to be "For Mature Readers Only," and considering that it opens up with a tarot card featuring Our Heroine naked with her legs in a V pointed to the ceiling followed by nine solid pages of her getting it doggystyle out on the back porch, that was probably a smart move on Jim Balent's part.
Seriously, that's what happens. Tarot and her boyfriend/developmentally subnormal partner in supernatural crimefighting Jon bang the day away while she ruminates on whether or not she should tell him she's been having sex with her friend the lingerie store owner werecat until she has an orgasm that is literally represented in lightning bolts coming off her body that knock everyone down, which... wow. I couldn't have made that up if I tried. And I assure you: I didn't. Regardless, despite the fact that this issue is called "The Lovers" and spends nine pages of captions on Tarot debating about her lovers, she doesn't actually resolve the problem with said lovers at all. Instead, she cries a little, Jon tells her that he loves her no matter who she has sex with, they go back to boning on the patio, and, in typical Broadsword Comics fashion, this is presented as a happy ending.
And the second half's even better, as said lace fetishist werecat reuinites with her vampire lover who, as it turns out, has spent the last two years dismantling a ring of internet snuff porn auteurs with a series of grisly murders recapped in a nine-page flashback that is both comically violent and thoroughly devoid of intentional humor.
But here's the thing: Said flashback sequence, which depicts Whatsername the Lesbian Vampire literally gouging a man's eyes out and leaving his intestines strewn across a dining room table includes lines like--and I'm quoting verbatim here--"I only left a smudge on the table. The rats will eat the rest and sh*t him out" and "I spent the last two years tracking down every name on that sick mother f**ker's list." Yeah--it's censored like that.
So, to review: In the mad world of Jim Balent, it's okay to show people having sex and other people having their intestines ripped out, but you can't actually say "fuck" or "shit." And that, my friends, is bat-sh*t f**king insane.
Teen Titans #39: I have to admit, so far, the Substitute Titans--a name which didn't occur to me until I typed it that I now want to see hung on them immediately--are actually turning out to be a lot more enjoyable than I thought they'd be. I mentioned Power Boy and Little Barda above, but this features Zatara, whose origin makes a lot more sense than I expected it to; Bombshell, who I find appealing based on her design and brief personality alone, since there's barely a hint of background offered up; and Miss Martian, who I actually have pretty high hopes for regardless of which way she turns out, even though the last page reveal's been pretty obvious now for a few months. All in all, it's the best issue of the Teen Titans since the first one after the OYL jump, and it's a good step towards getting it back to where it was a couple years ago.
Ultimates 2 #12: I'd never call The Ultimates Mark Millar's best work, not by a long shot. Not that it's his worst--that honor still belongs to the bottomlessly wretched Trouble--or even that it's bad at all. But to be quite honest, his Swamp Thing run's a lot smarter, his Superman Adventures stuff has a lot more heart to it, and even his minor jabs at social commentary were handled with more subtlety and nuance in The Authority.
But it is, however, the most flat-out entertaining comic book being published today. In essence, The Ultimates is Mark Millar doing Bill Mantlo: It's a big, stupid, over-the-top fight comic, and this is the biggest, stupidest, most ludicrously over-the-top issue of them all. And it's fantastic. Seriously, Captain America fighting super-terrorists with lightsabers? Iron Man blowing up vast portions of major cities with his ludicrous new armor? The Hulk beating the living hell out of someone smarter than him? That stuff is gold, and it has no illusions whatsoever about what it is.
It's an amazing contrast to a book like Civil War, which is essentially a big stupid fight comic with a half-baked morality play wedged in and an attemp to add shades of gray into a conflict that's clearly black and white, which completely fell apart halfway through. The Ultimates indulges in no shades of gray whatsoever, and thrives in its own dumbed-down punch-out that even has the exact same ending as Civil War #3, only done worlds better--by the same writer.
It might sound like I'm bashing the book unnceccessarily, but really: I think we can all come together and agree that The Ultimates isn't Citizen Kane good. But it is Die Hard good, true believer.
Wonderland #2: Considering that the first issue came out back in May, you'll forgive me if I run through the basics again here: Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew are doing a sequel to Disney's Alice in Wonderland, featuring Mary Ann, the unseen housemaid for the White Rabbit that Alice kept getting mistaken for during her visit. It's a fun little story, and Liew's art--which was what drew me in originally since I liked his work so much on the vastly underrated My Faith In Frankie mini-series he did with Mike Carey--is absolutely fantastic, except for the relatively minor problem that it's computer colored and there are little black Xes left everywhere that's supposed to be solid black. Even so, the art's a beautiful combination of the spirit of the animation and a style closer to the illustrations from a children's book, and it suits Kovac's script beautifully. Especially in this issue, which features a danger I've been wanting to see since I was four and a turn for the sinister at the end. They shouldn't be that hard to find, but if you're a fan of Liew's style--or, for that matter, Alice in Wonderland--it's well worth it to track them both down.