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Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Week in Ink: 5-11-06

Rising from the aftermath of DEERCAR 2006: THE WRECKONING is one of the lightest weeks for comics in recent memory. I got out of my store with a mere ten titles, which is about half my regular load.

If you happen to find yourself in a similar state with too much money earmarked for sequential art rattling around in your pockets, fear not: There is a solution. In addition to the standard slugfests that I like to read and talk about, this week marks the first wave of titles from First Second Books, and I assure you, they're a bunch of good people. I reviewed two of their new titles back in March (which can be found here on the off chance that you missed a picture of me wearing glasses, smoking a pipe, and otherwise trying to look serious), and they're well worth checking out.

Unlike some other things that came out during the second week of March, though, their books do not feature the Hellgrammite. This is probably to their credit.


52: Week One: I was really hoping to get a betting pool going around the store based on how long everyone thinks this book is going to actually come out weekly, but to my surprise, everyone--myself included--thinks that it's going to make it. The script seems to be broken down well, and from what I know, Giffen's a fast hand with the breakdown, JG Jones has a good amount of lead time for the covers, and while I imagine there's going to be some rough finished art before it's done, I really have confidence that it's going to go the distance. The real question, then, is if it's going to be good all the way through. There are very, very few comics that maintain a high quality standard for fifty issues, even with a great team like the one this has.

As for the first issue, it's highly enjoyable. It's a quick read, but that's not exactly a problem with a book that comes out every week, especially when it looks like there are five different stories going on. It's really got me excited to see if and how they're going to come together, although I am a little disappoitned that Steel's sporting the classic Superman logo on his armor instead of the one he was wearing all through JLA. The only problem I've got with the script is that Ralph Dibny's acting in a different way than he did at the end of Identity Crisis, when he'd seemingly reconciled himself with his wife's death. Still, I'm willing to go along with it if we see a Gingold-free Elongated Man running around doing some cool detective work. And aside from the fact that Dr. Mid-Nite sure does look like he's flying in the crowd scene, Joe Bennet's art was also a pleasant surprise that fit the story really well. And while I expected Giffen to fall back on his beloved nine-panel grid a lot more, the way he saved it for the Question scene (which by now we've all seen and marveled at the awesomeness of) was great, and really served to draw the Question/Rorschach parallel through page layout rather than action. And being that I frigg'n love the Question, that was pretty exciting.

Ex Machina #20: Despite the fact that the credits continue to be written in the KISS font, I really enjoy the way that Brian K. Vaughan mixes political intrigue and super-powers, and the way that this story has Mitchell Hundred worrying about the possibility of a vengeful "arch-enemy" while we actually see a contender for that title in the pages of the Ex Machina Special is a nifty bit of timing that works out well for the book. The art team of Harris, Feister, and Mettler doesn't fail to disappoint, as per usual, but I've just got to point out that I was really impressed by the fact that Harris & Co. drew the watermark on the guy's passport photo in this one. Throw in an actually shocking shock ending, and you've got yourself a chunk of entertainment that's well worth three bucks of your hard-earned cash every month.

Fables #49: Another fantastic issue from Willingham and Buckingham (wrapped up in a nice James Jean cover, of course), despite the lack of even a single panel of bare-naked wolf-punching. Come on, man, that's not something you can just throw out there in one issue and tease us with in the next. It's cruel. Uh, that may just be my opinion, though. Anyway, great stuff as Willingham builds to next month's big 50th issue, with the promises of winds changing and things getting better for Snow White, balanced out against the great introduction and (presumable) departure of Sarah Tanaraq, a character that speaks only in incredibly well-put together dialogue. Everything she says is memorable and occasionally heartbreaking, and it's that kind of thing that makes this such an enjoyable book to read. Buckingham, incidentally, appears to have abandoned his customary page borders for this issue, and the stark white surrounding the panels gives the story--much of which takes place in the Great Outdoors™--a nice sense of openness. It's almost enough to make me forgive the lack of pants-free wildlife fightin'.

Firestorm #25: Much to the surprise of absolutely no one, I'm the sort of guy that really enjoys reading a story where someone tries to eat, blow up, destroy, or otherwise maliciously screw with the Sun. I mean really, what do they think is going to happen? It's a lot of fun, and that's something this issue really delivers on, and even though there's more than a little extremely tenuous science going on, it's the sort of wackiness that comes off as a far more plausible version of a Bob Haney story. It's good stuff, and even though there's an appearance by Batman that doesn't seem to jive with this "kinder" version we keep hearing so much about, it's done well and comes off as pretty entertaining. And for the record, I also enjoy explaining how Killer Frost's powers work, which is essentially the whole reason why I've got this crazy internet weblog site.

Forgotten Realms: Sojourn #2: I've come to the conclusion that even if you're here for the sole purpose of reading my reviews of this week's comics, you probably don't have any particular desire to find out what I think about Andrew Dabb and Tim Seeley's fun and faithful comics adaptaion of R.A. Salvatore's Dark Elf Trilogy. It is, after all, full of characters with names like Roddy McGristle and Dove Falconhand that you pretty much know everything about as soon as you hear their names, and it's rife with spell-like abilities and people changing classes and going up a level. But you know who has two thumbs and does want to read about all that stuff?


...I'm uh, pointing at myself with my thumbs. It's really a visual thing, I guess, and my camera's out of batteries. Maybe it's best if I just move on.


Jonah Hex #7: Even though there wasn't a whole lot that came out, there were a lot of comics this week that I enjoyed, making the choice for "Best of the Week" a tougher one than usual. But there was only one comic that I read, put down, and used the word "awesome" three times within thirty seconds.

I've mentioned before that I don't usually care for Palmiotti and Gray as writers--Battle for Bludhaven is doing less than nothing for me, and I've openly loathed their past efforts--but this book reads like they were made to write it. It is quite literally exactly what I want from a Jonah Hex title and, with its self-contained stories, exactly what I want from a Western genre title as well. It's a format that reads more like the early Thomas/Buscema Conan issues than anything else I can think of off the top of my head, with the done-in-one stories chronicling only the high points of Hex's adventures without any pages taken up by needless extravagancies like a continuing plot or character development. And that's not a bad thing. You know most of what you need to about Jonah Hex just from hearing his name and seeing the character, and every other element, whether it's his brutal sense of honor or his feelings about Bat Lash, works its way into the script.

After all, whether you side with a face half-melted by pissed-off Apache or a man who beats Nazis to death with a belt of .50 caliber machine-gun rounds, Hex is right up there with Sgt. Rock as far as DC's all-time badass characters go, and that's a fact that Palmiotti and Gray have clearly taken to heart, telling two-fisted stories of Western action where entire towns get slaughtered in the wake of Hex passing through. It's exciting stuff.

This is, unfortunately, Luke Ross's last issue on the title, closing out a darn fine--albeit short--run. His pencils were what convinced me to give the book a chance back when I was still wary about Palmiotti and Gray on the title, and even though he's only done six issues, not a single one has disappointed. I'm even partial to the way he draws Hex with the face of a young Clint Eastwood. Or half of one, at least.

If you haven't been reading, this is the perfect issue to pick up, as it teaches us (much like Kill Bill and that one scene in Tombstone) that murdering a bunch of people at a wedding is never a good thing to do, and will most likely get you killed by a total badass. Plus, it starts with a gunfight, ends with a gunfight, and there's a liberal amount of gunfighting in the middle, too, and that's a formula for storytelling that I can get behind.

She-Hulk #7: I told you Starfox was creepy. Anyway, this issue's been the hot topic of discussion among certain circles, but as far as I'm concerned, this issue just proves that Dan Slott's capable of doing super-hero sex abuse better than anyone else in comics right now. And also, I think you're all missing the point: the Mad Thinker's Awesome Android (which is quite possibly the best name in the history of comics) is gettin' a little romancin' of his own, and that's fun stuff. At its heart, Slott's She-Hulk seems to revolve more around the interpersonal relationships of the characters more than anything else, and the way he sets up things like Jen Walters dating a former werewolf who doesn't approve of her alternate form (wherine she occasionally flips out and rips up the Vision) really shows how much thought he puts into the structure of his comics. And why they're very, very good.

Superman #652: Okay, seriously: If I was going to put together a team that I thought had a good chance of taking out Superman once and for all, I might throw Livewire on there, and maybe Bloodsport would get an invite, but let's be honest here: What the hell did they think Hellgrammite was going to do? He got slapped around by the Creeper, for God's sake. Anyway, I'm really enjoying "Up, Up, and Away," and seeing Superman get his powers back this issue was a lot of fun. Pete Woods does a darn fine job on the art, and I love the panels he does where we first see Superman back in the costume, both at home and then the "big reveal" of his return. Putting him at depowered Golden Age levels was an interesting choice, and it made for some great moments, but I've got a couple of problems with this issue. First off, Lois telling Superman to "find Intergang and hurt them" came off surprisingly bitter and hateful. Superman's not really about hurting people, and even beyond that, I can't stop reading it in Ricardo Montalban's voice from Wrath of Khan. And also, and this may just be me, but it would've been ten times better with this dialogue:

Seriously. I would've lost control.

Veronica #170: Completely contrary to the last issue of Betty, this week's Riverdale Experiment contender was really enjoyable, thanks in no small part to the lead story, "Queen of Denial." As the cover suggests, it involves Veronica daydreaming on a field trip about what it would be like if the gang lived back in the times of ancient Egypt, and while that may not sound like much, by the time it gets to the point where she's ordering Midge and Cheryl Blossom dragged off and forced into slavery to labor for her greater glory as God-Empress in retaliation for catching them flirting with "Archius," it's downright hilarious.

X-Men: Deadly Genesis: Yeah, I'm going to go ahead and not scan that Marc Silvestri cover, as it's pretty horrendous. Anyway, Ed Brubaker's revisionist take on the events of Giant Size X-Men #1, and it ends up being a pretty interesting continuation of the idea that, as Kitty Pryde said, "Professor X is a Jerk!" I've always enjoyed seeing Professor X as the seemingly-benevolent leader who realizes that sacrifices are inevitable and need to be made, and while I would've liked to see a little more of Professor X having to deal with the internal struggle that points to, Brubaker's clearly coming at it from the same place. And I'll admit: It's nice to have that "Third Summers Brother" nonsense cleared up.

Plus, Collossus punches a guy and it goes "KRAANG!" Tell me you don't love it when that happens.


Blogger Kevin Church said...

Little correction, and this ain't you at all: Renato Guedes is the one doing art on the Superman titles this month. I know that on the cover of last week's Action, they still listed Woods. I really dig Guedes's art, though - it blends with Woods's work perfectly.

5/12/2006 7:12 AM

Blogger Steven said...

But it's not just Hellgrammite. It's the Neron-improved, suped up Hellgrammite... oh can't even bring myself to care. He did make an excellent punching bag though.

I think the Puzzler and Shrapnel should date.

Yeah, that's about it.

5/12/2006 12:12 PM

Blogger Ragnell said...

I think the problem is that they want to go through most of Superman's "Rogues" and they had to get the D-listers out of the way while he was low on power. Hellgrammite is an E-lister, sure, but at the moment Superman couldn't fly.

From an in-stry perspective, without Apokoliptian connections, Intergang's never been able to hit up the big boys. I think they're cut off from the Fourth World right now so they had to use what they had availible, and hey, why not send everything after him?

And you write way better dialogue than Johns does.

5/12/2006 2:17 PM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

Yeah, me and Richard Donner.

And everyone, please ignore Kevin's previous comment, as we've determined that it actually was Pete Woods who did this issue. I've been speaking to him privately, and it turns out that he missed the message of Mr. T and the T-Force and indulged in a little too much crack cocaine.

See what happens, kids?

5/12/2006 3:27 PM

Blogger Kevin Church said...



5/12/2006 3:53 PM

Blogger Gary said...

I don't understand these One Year Later Superman titles. A Jumping On Point for NEW READERS ploy is what it's supposed to be, isn't it? So the best way to attract new readers is to take away his powers and get him to fight stupid villains you've never heard of before?

5/12/2006 8:27 PM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

I see your point, but honestly: Who out there doesn't know who Superman is and what he can do? He's one of the few characters in comics that's so pervasive in pop culture that he requires little to no explanation to the average man-on-the-street.

Kids have three or four animated series versions to choose from, from SuperFriends to Justice League Unlimited, not to mention other media.

And as far as the villains, well, unlike Batman, whose rogues gallery is pretty solid overall, or the Flash, whose rogues come off as charming in their gimmicks, after you get past Lex Luthor and Brainiac, there's a pretty big drop-off as far as Superman's bad guys are concerned.

I don't think you'd need to know that Riot is an old Blue Beetle villain to enjoy that issue either, but (except for Bloodsport, who you could easily mistake as a guy who just carries around guns, which you could do anyway) all the explanation for the villains is done in the story.

Hellgrammite and Livewire are pretty self-explanatory, after all.

5/12/2006 8:59 PM

Blogger Kevin Church said...

Livewire is also heavily featured on Superman: The Animated Series, giving her a little more new-user-friendliness than most villains.

5/12/2006 10:00 PM

Blogger Gary said...

I see where you're coming from, but it just doesn't work for me. It seems to me that if you're trying to pull in new readers you're dealing with people born post 1986, and I'd argue that post-Crisis Superman hasn't been that great. I'd be lying if I said I was very familiar with the animated series, but from the three or four episodes I remember seeing they didn't really blow me away. So, the Superman that I assume kids are familiar with is kind of a dull property. If you want to recruit you've got to put out material with a clear identity. "Not-quite Super"man fighting forgettable lame villains doesn't really seem the way to go. On the other hand I love All-Star Superman, I think it's great, but as far as I know it's not available on newsstands but the regular titles are, and that seems like 180 degrees away from what DC's marketing plan should be. I may of course, be totally wrong, but that's how I see it.

5/12/2006 10:05 PM

Blogger Canton said...

New reader here. Okay, relatively new, especially to DC. Time to weigh in with some purely anecdotal evidence.

I liked the OYL Superman titles I tried (the first three installments of the current arc.) The story is fun; it's easy to follow for someone with only the most rudimentary background knowledge; and you don't get bogged down by a character who's too darned perfect to be interesting. The villains don't seem lame when they're up against a guy with no powers.

'Course, I'm waiting for the trade for the rest of the arc, but it's not like the Superman titles are in any danger of cancellation.

All-Star Superman is fun, too, but I'm thinking that has more to do with Lois Lane than anything. That, against all odds, made it to my monthly pulls.

Hrm. Anyway, yeah. Still can't believe I like Supes... Heh.

5/12/2006 11:57 PM

Blogger Steven said...

"Who out there doesn't know who Superman is?"

True story. I was in Istanbul, wearing my Superman T-shirt (I was 14 at the time, give me a break). And Turkish men would stop what they were doing, point at the shirt and shout "S'perman". They all recognized the "S," they all approved.

So yeah. Stick a guy in the blue union suit. Give him a smart mouthed dame to save from evil bald genius, and I think everyone in the world is good to go.

5/13/2006 1:37 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude! Superman is wearing wrist-sleeves from Supergirl's costume!

Of course, new readers probably wouldn't notice or care.

5/17/2006 8:38 AM

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