The Week In Ink: 2-21-07
Considering that everyone's going to be busy reading Wednesday night's post for the next few weeks, I'm going to forgo my traditional Kick To The Face this week, and instead share with you something from this week's shipment that brought me an almost untold amount of joy. After all, it's just us pals here, right?
Remember that part in the old Looney Tunes short Robin Hood Daffy, where Daffy Duck's trying to convince Porky Pig that he is in fact Robin Hood, and Porky just sits there howling with laughter for a minute, only pausing for a single tear of joy to roll down his cheek? Yeah, that is exactly what happened to me when I saw the third printing of Anita Blake #1.
Fan-tastic! It's like they're specifically trying to make it easy for me!
Of course, seeing as I've already discussed that little bit of vampire-themed quasi-pornography, it won't be included in tonight's installment of the internet's most two-fisted comics reviews! Here's what I bought...
... And here's what I thought!
52: Week Forty-Two: As I've mentioned, 52's been on an upswing in quality for the past few weeks, but this is the first time in months that I'd actually consider it to be an excellent comic, and I'm sure that a lot of that has to do with Darick Robertson's fantastic artwork. It fits the the story perfectly, and unlike recent issues, it doesn't seem rushed. As for the story itself, it's essentially the parlor scene of the Ralph Dibny sequence, and while I'm ready for pretty much every storyline to start wrapping up at this point, the plot twists of this one--along with some great visuals, like Ralph blowing the helmet off of his own head with a magical wishing gun--made for an incredibly entertaining wrap-up, and even answered those nagging continuity questions I had about Helmet of Fate. Even with his death, it's a great moment for Ralph Dibny that for the last year, he's been weaving a complex master plan designed to rid the world of a pretty serious threat. Here's hoping the rest of the stories end as well as this one did.
Birds of Prey #103: As much as I've been enjoying Gail Simone's run on this book for the past few years, and as much as I like that she's set up the Spy-Smasher as a great amoral counterpart for Oracle in this story arc, I've got to call shennanigans on the way this issue ended. It's not unusual in comics for the villain to pull out the Aunt May Defense, wherein the hero is threatened not with what the exposure of their identity will do to themselves, but to their withered, ancient parental figures, but when said parental figure is Comissioner Jim Gordon, it doesn't quite work. Admittedly, Barbara Gordon being arrested and tried as a traitor the United States Government wouldn't be a heck of a lot of fun, but, "it would stop his heart?" Really? That guy lived through two plagues, No Man's Land, finding out that his daughter was a global espionage operative, and still does Tai Chi in Robinson Park every morning and runs the police force in the toughest city in the DC Universe; I think he can cope. Of course, that doesn't really have any bearing on Barbara's concern for him, nor does it address the fact that this could just be a ploy to take the Spy-Smasher down from the inside.
Maybe I'm just sick of seeing protagonists give up without a fight this week. (See Below.)
The Brave and the Bold #1: "Mark Waid and George Perez" might not have the same ring to it--or the same promise of glorious insanity and bone-shattering uppercuts--as "Bob Haney and Jim Aparo," but if someone asked me to think up a team for a book centered exclusively on DC Universe team-up stories, I really doubt I could come up with a better team. Perez, of course, has a thirty-year career in comics that speaks for itself, and one of the truly amazing things about him is that he's never falllen off; his art's as good today as it's ever been, or--thanks to inker Bob Wiacek and Tom Smith's coloring--better. As for Mark Waid, well, it's pretty safe to say I'm a fan. He was one of the first creators that I knew by name and followed when I was a kid, thanks to his run on Flash, and despite the fact that I've recently grown disenchanted with Kingdom Come, I can honestly say that he's never written a story that I read and didn't enjoy. So needless to say, I've been looking forward to this one for a while, and it did not disappoint. The story's typical Waid: Fun, exciting, and full of the trappings of the DCU, from throwaway references to the Royal Flush Gang to the artifact the whole story's revolving around.
The only problem--for me, anyway--is that unlike its predecessor, this version of Brave and the Bold isn't going to focus exclusively on Batman team-ups. To be honest, that's perfectly fine, especially considering that we've got Batman and the Blue Beetle taking on the Fatal Five in #3 to look forward to, but the next issue's going to feature Supergirl and Green Lantern. And really, who wants to read that?
Checkmate #11: Aside from the Question, my knowledge of most of the old Charlton Comics heroes is pretty slim, and while I'm enjoying the appearances by his successor in Birds of Prey, everything I really know about Judomaster can be inferred from a look at his name. Still, the fact that Thomas Jagger's turned out to be the son of the original Judomaster is pretty exciting, as it's another reminder that Greg Rucka--along withi frequent co-writers Nunzio Defilippis and Christina Weir--are drawing heavilly on the DCU itself, which, along with this issue's cover homage, reinforces the idea of Checkmate as the new Suicide Squad. Of course, considering that pretty much everybody in the cast of the book is tied to the DC Universe--including my personal favorite, the all-new Madamoiselle Marie--that really shouldn't come as a surprise, and neither should the fact that this is consistently one of DC's best titles.
Civil War #7: And now, the reason we're all here. At this point, everything that I can tell you about the last issue of Civil War has already been said elsewhere, and I've even taken my own shots at it with Wednesday's 30-second recap, but it bears repeating: This has got to be the biggest pile of nothing that I have ever read.
To its credit, the artwork is fantastic. Steve McNiven's a great talent, and with Morry Hollowell's coloring, this has been an absolutely beautiful book from start to finish, even if he did forget that the Vision's a kid these days. The script, however, fails on every conceivable level. The biggest problem, of course, is that after all these months, with a year's worth of delays and promises that it's only late beacuse while the ending was awesome, they wanted to rewrite it to be super-awesome, it ends in the most poorly-written and anticlimactic resolution of Mark Millar's entire career. It's so wildly problematic that I don't even know where to begin, but I'll just start by saying that Captain America's tackled by a group of emergency workers who might as well be carrying a banner reading "THE HEROES OF 9/11" in grand political cartoon fashion, it's actually less tasteful than when the ghosts of the dead firemen show up in last month's issue of Tarot. And if they hadn't jumped on him, are we really supposed to believe that Captain America was about to decapitate Tony Stark--his friend--like he did to the Red Skull? Really?
Not that I could really blame him, considering the way Tony Stark's been characterized through the whole series. It's not enough that he's a facist who thinks it's a good idea to send out a team of serial murderers to kill Spider-Man, but he's become thoroughly unlikeable as a person. The cheap shot at Maria Hill at the end of the series--which would maybe be understandable if they hadn't been on the same side for the whole thing--just seals the deal of making him a total prick, and I honestly can't understand why anybody would want to read about that guy anymore.
And it only gets worse from there. The idea that this whole huge "event" has led to Captain America bursting into tears at the sight of a few wrecked buildings--in a city that's been invaded by Atlantis, trashed by Galactus, had literal Roman Catholic Hell break out, and had mile-long profanity carved into it with orbital laser beams¹--is only slightly less preposterous than the fact that it leads Captain America, one of two characters who stands as the voice of morality in the Marvel Universe, to quit. I honestly don't mean to go all fan-entitlement on anybody, but Sweet Christmas, Captain America doesn't quit. It's what defines him as a character. And for him to quit specifically in a battle that revolves around freedom is... well, it's crazy.
And that's just the high point, which in itself is predicated on the idea that Black Panther--a master tactician in his own right--thinks it's a good idea to teleport the giant super-hero battle into the middle of downtown Manhattan. And it just keeps getting worse, from the pithy, faux-tough dialogue to the phenomenally trite and poorly-written letter from Reed Richards (who, incidentally, apparently forgot that he's got stretching powers that would protect him from being shot, and that his wife can create force fields), to Spider-Man's nonsensical costume change. The parts that are "good" are only good in the way that all recent Mark Millar stories are good: They're exciting. Who doesn't want to see Namor show up and yell his catchphrase, or watch Hercules bash Cyborg Murderclone Thor's head in? Right on, that's stuff we all like. But it's cheap, and it's easy, and unlike The Ultimates--a book that's entirely based around cheap, easy fun--that's not nearly enough to save it here. Instead, all we're left with is a book that's thoroughly, unapologetically awful.
So, uh, anybody want to buy my run?
Conan #37: I honestly don't have much of a review for this one--you know, since it's been an amazingly solid and well-done title for over three years now--but after spilling four solid paragraphs of bile, there are two things that I'd like to point out here:
a) That cover totally looks like this issue's going to be Conan vs. the Goon, which actually isn't what happens, but the thought alone is awesome enough to make it worth picking up, and...
b) I am fascinated by the idea that there are t-shirts in the Hyborian Age.
Hellblazer #229: True Fact: Mike Carey's run on Hellblazer is one of the most underrated runs in recent memory. In fact, when I jumped off the book, it wasn't beacuse I had any particular dislike for what Denise Mina was doing, but rather because Carey's last issue was the perfect ending. Of course, now that Andy Diggle--whose run on Losers was similarly overlooked--is slated to come on next month, I'm interested again, but to be honest, I was way more excited when I noticed Carey was back for this issue's one-shot story, and I wasn't disappointed. In 22 moody, washed-out pages by John Paul Leon, Carey brings everything you want to see from John Constantine, with a fast-paced supernatural mystery that seems inspired by the annoying "trading sequences" of the Legend of Zelda games than anything else, with Constantine staying one step ahead of everyone as usual until he finally gets annoyed enough to shut everything down. It's fantastic stuff, and it's well worth checking out.
Local #8: In this issue of Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly's always-excellent mini-series, attractive punk-chic Megan learns that she should totally have crazy sex with slackers in dead-end jobs who spent way too much money on Star Wars toys and don't appear to actually be doing anything with their lives. In light of that, I'd like to take this opportunity to declare Brian Wood The Best Writer Ever.
Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #10: With the fact that last month's installment is unquestionably one of the greatest triumphs of mankind, I've gotten used to the idea that Jeff Parker's scripts for this book are going to be a heck of a lot more entertaining than the regular Avengers titles, but the awesome Cameron Stewart cover for this issue alone just seals it. It's a fantastic read, too, as the Avengers hit the Renaissance Faire to stop Morgan Le Fay from stealing souls through evil magic brought about by World of Warcraft, but let's be honest here: Any comic where Spider-Man blows off going on a mission so that he can level up his Wizard and Tony Stark's college major is revealed to be "making battlesuits" pretty much guarantees a good time.
Punisher War Journal #4: One of these days, the super-villains of the Marvel Universe are going to learn to stop hanging out in bars together.
Until then, however, we'll just have to deal with some pretty fantastic stories, like this one. Matt Fraction's been thoroughly knocking them out of the park with everything he touches lately with books like Casanova and The Immortal Iron Fist, and the Punisher's no exception, with this issue focusing around the highly dysfunctional funeral of Stilt-Man. It's a great read, thanks in large part to the great little touches that Fraction works in, but by the time Spider-Man shows up, it suddenly becomes fantastic. Spidey's encounter with a drunken Princess Python and her insistence on referring to him as "Peter Shhpidermun" is funny enough on its own to warrant his appearance, but the fact that the Eel even stops to remark on how classy it is of Spider-Man to stop by and warn them to be careful out there is a wonderful bit of character that's sorely lacking in a lot of titles. And even better, it makes a great counterpoint to the Punisher himself, who functions solely as death with a grim sense of humor in Fraction's stories.
And that's exactly how it should be.
Spider-Man Family #1: Even for something that costs five bucks, this thing is thick. A full-length black costume-related story by Sean McKeever, a ten-page backup written by Fred Van Lente that features the Black Cat getting tied up by Patsy Walker after a round of good-natured wrestling, two full-sized reprints (including one from Untold Tales of Spider-Man), a handful of Chris Giarrusso strips, and a flat-out crazy manga story, and for a kid who's excited about Spider-Man 3 and wants to read about the character, that's a pretty good way to go about it. Me, I was just excited about getting more Spidey stories from Sean McKeever, but the news that he's signed exclusive to DC seems to have nipped that right in the bud (well, after the third issue anyway). Fortunately, there's still Fred Van Lente--whose involvement escaped me until I saw his name on the cover Wednesday morning--and a wealth of talent like Jeff Parker and Dan Slott that would be perfect on the book.
And while we're on the subject of Fred Van Lente, I just had a thought: I would buy every single issue of this thing if, in place of a couple of the reprinted Giarrusso strips, I could find a two-page story by Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, his Action Philosophers collaborator, where Peter Parker explained true scientific facts. Seriously, that should happen.
The Spirit #3: Three issues in, and I can already tell that this is going to be one of those comics that I never have anything fresh or interesting to say, because it's just going to be that good every month. The origin story of the Spirit in this issue is nothing short of masterful, as Darwyn Cooke nails the distinctive voice of every major character in a compelling, excellent read. It's the art, however, that really steals the show: With the intentionally sketchy linework and amazing, clashing pastels of Dave Stewart's coloring, the flashback sequences are just gorgeous, with Cooke and J. Bone outdoing themselves on every page. Simply put, it's a fantastic book, and it's one that everybody--not just comics fans, but everybody--ought to be reading.
Wasteland #7: A tip of the hat to friend of the ISB Dave Lartigue, who got blurbed on the back cover of this month. Of course, when they quoted me a few months ago, I was promised that they'd keep the riff-raff out, but, well, when a guy's right, he's right, and Lartigue hit it right on the head with his quote. The Post-Apocalyptic Western is a genre that's rarely seen anyone do it well, but the sheer amount of meticulous thought that Antony Johnston's put into every aspect of the world he's writing about is apparent on every issue, and it makes for some fantastic comics. Even better, this issue--which is a stand-alone story for all you fence-sitters out there--features the fantastic artwork of Carla Speed McNeil, which I haven't had a good chance to enjoy since either her arc on Queen & Country or Frank Ironwine, and it's always nice to see a reminder of how good she really is. As much as I've liked Christopher Mitten on this series, McNeil's art is clean and fits this issue perfectly, especially in the way the book literally gets darker as the story moves towards its end. It's great stuff, as always.
And that's the week! As always, comments or questions on my blunt, authoritative reviews--such as why it took me two days to get this thing written and I didn't even bother to review Wonder Woman--are always welcome in the comments section or via email. But we can pretty much assume that it's all Civil War's fault.
That kind of vitriol really takes it out of a guy.
1: Before you ask, according to the latest OHOTMU, Marvel Boy is in continuity.