The Week in Ink: 10-04-06
Let's not mince words here: Sometimes, Batman just comes out of nowhere.
And sometimes, the ISB comics reviews for the first week of October come... well, pretty much exactly when you expect them. We run a tight, face-kick-oriented ship around here. On with it!
52: Week Twenty-Two: For a while, there was not a week that went by without an eye-rollingly horrible cover blurb from DC that was based on a movie title--Jeepers Creepers, Bring it On, heck, if memory serves, they used I Am Curious (Yellow) twice in one year--and believe me: it was no fun. That said, I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank whoever came up with "Magnus: Robot Hunted," because likening DC's greatest super-scientist to a character who, as Wikipedia says "fights robots in the year 4000 AD using kung fu" makes me happier than even "Calling Dr. Fate" did a few weeks ago.
Anyway, this week's issue features 100% less Lobo and 100% more subtle reminders of mercury's unique properties, and as such is totally awesome. The Supernova story continues apace, although even in weekly installments, it feels like there's not a whole lot going on with him, and as for Super-Chief, well, I find myself far more interested in an appearance by the Zoo Crew's Fastback as the mascot of a bus line than the actual guy himself.
The Metal Men sequence, though, is fantastic, from Mercury's eagerness to get back to fighting giant chemical monstrosities to Doc Magnus taking on his opponents with the power of scientific ass-kicking. And that's good comics.
Agents of Atlas #3: Halfway into it, and I think it's safe to say that Jeff Parker and Leonard Kirk are doing one of the most purely enjoyable Marvel comics of the year, as evidenced by the fact that by page four, they're already giving us a fight between a robot, a spaceman, and what essentially amounts to a robotic Fu Manchu. Admittedly, there's a lengthy expository sequence towards the end set up to give background on Marvel Boy and how exactly he's supposed to work, but since I have a general distaste for most What If stories, I'm only familiar with the team from their appearance in Avengers Forever, and feel like Parker's doing a fine job cramming a lot of backstory while keeping it quick and fun to read. Mostly, I suspect, because he's balancing it out with the whole monkey-spaceman-kung-fu-robot fight.
All-New Atom #4: As much as it's tempting to talk about Gail Simone's continuing efforts to write comics directed solely at me, what with all the face-kicking, thirty-foot naked women, and what appears to be a bootleg mega-rod, it's the actual storyline revelation of this issue that hooked me. The idea of Ivy Town as a super-scientific version of Lovecraft's Arkham where Ray Palmer's nigh-constant screwing around at the quantum level has created a state of permanent chaos-theory madness. It's a genius idea with a ton of potential, and it put me in mind of Mark Waid's Julian September story from JLA, and while I may in fact be the only person who remembers that story fondly, it's more than enough to make me look forward to more.
American Splendor #2: Mike Sterling described the stories from this issue as "mundane yet compelling," and I honestly can't think of a better way to describe them. Aside from the lead story--a stirring tale of the triumph of man over toilet, which provides a cover that's worth the price of admission alone--nothing really happens in most of Pekar's short slices-of-life, but for some reason that I can't quite put my finger on, they're amazingly evocative, and in the case of Eddie Campbell's collaboration, "The Czech-Out Counter," highly entertaining comics.
BEYOND! #4: Come on, everybody: SPAAAAAAACE PHANTOM! Yes, it's the daring return of the character that absolutely refuses to make sense in all-out action alongside XEMNU THE TITAN! See? It is absolutely impossible for me to talk about this book without exploding into joy like I'd just found a stack of unpublished Bill Mantlo Hulk rampages. And that's essentially what Dwayne McDuffie and Scott Kolins are doing with this one: it's got all the sensibilities of a big, crazy, 80s style crossover, right on down to the casting choices, but with McDuffie's dead-on dialogue and timing, Kolins' best artwork yet--largely thanks to colorist Paul Mounts--and, shocking everyone, a thoroughly affable and competent Hank Pym! Barring a drastic turn for the worse in the next two issues, it's easily one of the best and most underrated mini-series of the year.
Criminal #1: I mentioned last week that Ed Brubaker is one of the most talented writers working in comics today, and his collaboations with the always-fantastic Sean Philips on Sleeper make up a lot of the basis for that claim, so I've been looking forward to this one ever since it was announced. Even so, this particular issue left me a little cold--but not for the reason you might think. It's crafted extremely well with excellent memorable details like the "Frank Kafka" newspaper strip and an interesting two-page text piece at the end. At its heart, though, it's a heist story, and with the notable exception of Darwyn Cooke's damn-near-perfect Catwoman: Selina's Big Score, I'm never that excited about the mandatory "getting the team together" part. Your mileage, however, may vary, and with a well-done, incredibly well-packaged product like this one, I'm more than willing to stay on board for what comes next.
Detective Comics #824: Not only does it include the out-of-nowhere Bat-Facekick as pictured above, but this issue opens with Batman threatened by a deathtrap featuring man-eating seals, and features a guest appearance by Zatanna, thus proving that Paul Dini may in fact be the single greatest comics writer of our times.
Dr. Strange: The Oath #1: When it comes time to write reviews, I tend to use enough adjectives per paragraph to choke a mid-sized horse, but even I can sum up the first issue of Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin's new Dr. Strange series in one word: Cool.
One of Vaughan's strongest points as a writer is his sharp dialogue, and from the note-perfect exchange between Iron Fist and Araña on Page One, he's at his best in this one, returning Strange to the kind of smooth, self-assured, spell-casting kung fu badass that I've always wanted him to be. He spends the entire issue on an operating table being patched up from a gunshot wound, and he's still the coolest dude in the room. And the rest of the cast--namely the Night Nurse and Wong, along with some briefly-seen sinister types--simply falls into place around him in a string of incredible scenes that don't miss a beat for twenty-two pages, right up to one of Vaughan's other strong points, the ridiculously exciting last page reveal.
Marcos Martin, of course, is absolutely incredible. I'll leave it to Polite Scott to give us the rundown on his operating room accuracy, but his clean linework under Alvaro Lopez's inks and the phenomenal coloring of Javier Rodriguez make them one of my favorite art teams in comics, and one that I've been wanting to see on a book like Dr. Strange for more than a year. And if you've never read Breach, well, here's why.
It all adds up to being one of those perfect combinations, and it makes for a truly amazing comic book.
Incredible Hulk #99: Apparently, every time the Hulk ends up fighting someone portrayed with even a minor shred of dignity in this story, they're going to end up switching sides to join his merry band of rebels, and while that's a formula that I saw coming a mile away with The Oldstrong over the past few issues, it's one that I have absolutely no problem enjoying.
Irredeemable Ant-Man #1: I mentioned last week that I've been a little disappointed with Robert Kirkman lately--and I'll mention it again when I get down to this week's Marvel Team-Up--but this one actually surprised me with how enjoyable it is. There are more than a few genuinely amusing moments, but if Kirkman's really setting out to fufill the promise of the title, I'm not sure how long that's going to keep up. I mean, how long can you write a thoroughly unlikeable super-hero and still be comercially viable?
Huh. Quite a while, apparently.
Jonah Hex #12: Congratulations, boys, you just won yourselves some pie! Keep it up and we'll try for ice cream too! Anyway, I'm no big fan of Paul Gulacy--mostly because the most I've read of his work was when he was drawing hideous, emotionless ur-people in the pages of Catwoman--but I think he acquits himself pretty well here. There are, of course, a few awkward poses--Red Crow's bizarre Christ-like death scene on page 17 in particular comes out of frigg'n nowhere--but it was more than halfway into the book that I thought Gulacy might be drawing it when I noticed someone's head looked weird.
And now that I think of it, that doesn't really sound like a compliment. Oh well.
Marvel Team-Up #25: Believe me, I'm saying this as a fan, but when the best thing about your big final issue blowout is that it features minor cameos from Darkhawk, Terror, and the Sleepwaker, that might be a problem. It's not a terrible comic (well, except for Wolverine shouting "I'M GOING TO MAKE YOU BLEED!," which... wow), but it's certainly the worst issue of the run by far, and if this was supposed to be the big finale to the Titannus story that was kicked off back in issue 1, it's a huge disappointment on that front. The big fight reads like a slapdash copout, which is odd considering that I seem to remember hearing back at the beginning that Kirkman had only planned for 25 issues, and with a two-year lead time, you'd think the kinks in the denoument would be worked out pretty thoroughly. Not to mention the fact that Crusader shows up and pretty much runs the show a lot better than Freedom Ring--who actually trained with it--has a lot of odd overtones about the character that I'm not sure were intended, and even the League of Losers, by far Kirkman's best and best-executed idea on the series, is reduced on the last page to an annoying sitcom gag. Well, more than it already was, I mean. Suffice to say, this book probably could've ended about three issues ago and left a much happier audience.
Mystery In Space #2: Not to knock this book or anything--I actually liked this second issue a lot better than the first--but it is $3.99, and with all the comics out there, not everybody can keep up with as many as I do. So, in the interest of the public good, I'd like to offer a One-Sentence Recap: Captain Comet (having shortened his name to "Comet" or just "El Comerino") hangs out with Judge Dredd and and old man asking nosy questions and disassembling their possessions with his mind, while the Weird floats around for sixteen pages talking to himself and occasionally punching a robot. If that sounds like your thing, have at it!
Street Fighter Legends: Sakura #2: I actually like the Street Fighter comics a lot, but this series is shaping up to be a legitimately fun read, full of the goofy charm that you can only get when you combine Dan Hibiki--also known as the single greatest fighting game character ever--with Rainbow Mika--who has what may in fact be the most ludicrously nonsensical costume in the history of video games--and make them fight world-famous Russian Bear-Fighter Zangief. It practically writes itself. Still, if I may be allowed to make a small suggestion to writer Ken Sui-Chong: If you're going to go ahead and write a story about Japanese professional wrestlers, why not just go all out and include FMW-style deathmatch elements like, say, tanks of scorpions or exploding barbed wire two-by fours?
No, I'm not kidding. Just be glad I didn't suggest the dreaded--and totally real Anus Explosion Death Match. Wikipedia's stilted, almost clinical definition is what makes that one for me.
Y - The Last Man #50: I'd completely forgotten that Y was headed towards a planned ending at #60 until I followed a link from Brian K. Vaughan's weekly MySpace bulletin--which also included a tantalizing comment about a "disastrous" shark-diving trip with Garth Ennis that I would pay good money to read in hardcover form--to Pia Guerra's blog, currently running under the rather apt title of "Y - The Last Year."
It makes sense, then, that Vaughan and Guerra use #50 to kickstart the final countdown to the last issue, this time by raising the stakes yet again with pretty surprising reveal four pages from the end, followed by another one on the last page. Apparently, "shock follows shock" is not just an expression. Who knew? Regardless, it'll be a shame to see it go next year, as it's a truly phenomenal comic, but Vaughan's got no shortage of quality work coming out (see above), and I sincerely doubt Guerra's truly incredible art is going to have any trouble finding a home.