Saturday, October 4, 2008

Five Comics Worth Reading, 10/1/08

The Disclaimer: I read a lot of comics every week (everything Marvel publishes and a lot of what DC puts out as well, plus a potpourri of other publishers). For me to write about each and every one of them would exhaust me as well as bore you and likely make you hate me. Also, there's a like a zillion places on the net where you could read intelligent commentary about comics people don't like as opposed to me going "Geoff Johns is mean!"*

So I've decided instead on a weekly(ish) basis to call out five books I read that are rad and explain why you should check them out as well. Sure, some criticism may find it's way in there in drips and drabs, but for the most part, it's glass all the way full city, baby!

However, while I do feel these are Five Comics Worth Reading, it hardly means I think they're the only comics worth reading or even necessarily the absolute best five books that came out this week, they just represent a cross section of stuff I felt I had at least semi-interesting things to say about.

Finally, since I don't get my Marvel books until Friday most weeks, when this feature does get published, it probably won't hit until the weekend, just in time to was those Sunday afternoon doldrums away!

Let's begin...


This one will be longer than the rest...

We got into my issues with Grant Morrison earlier this week, but as noted in that entry, comics like BATMAN #680 are why I still think the guy is one of the best talents around. I recognize that a lot of my problems with Grant's work comes when he writes characters I'm strongly attached to and thus feel like I know their "voice." It has always seemed to me as though Grant is a guy who looks at a character and picks them apart as if he were approaching them for the first time, not bogging them down with other writers' views. This works to his advantage a lot as far as getting in those characters' heads and really exposing what makes them tick, but if you're a longtime fan of said characters (as I was with the X-Men, or am with a lot of the characters he's using in FINAL CRISIS), it can be jarring when he throws out a lot of the traits you've come to know in order to tell his story.

This is why I've always found I enjoy Morrison the most on something like ANIMAL MAN or his Seven Soldiers books, because he's attacking characters I'm not especially into, thus his take on them is my first exposure. However, I've also found that with characters like Superman or Batman, who have had such a wide variety of "voices" ascribed to them via thousands of comics, not to mention countless movie and TV interpretations, the same rules apply, which is certainly one reason JLA worked for me. With Batman, I have no set bias as far as how the character "sounds" (other than that he sounds like Kevin Conroy), so Grant is free to go to town, and with this "Batman RIP" storyline, he has certainly done just that.

Do I understand all the nuances of what is going on with "RIP"? I most certainly do not. What I do get is that Grant--via the villains involved--is psychologically stripping apart Bruce Wayne and what makes him Batman, as well as what lengths he will go to--and has gone to--to his do his "job," and what kind of toll that inevitably takes on a mortal man, and I find it all fascinating and entertaining. A title like "Batman RIP" seems to imply the kind of ridiculously high stakes that no story can actually live up to in today's cynical reading environment, but this issue in particular really does make you feel like Batman could end up suffering a fate potentially worse than just his alter ego taking a dirtnap; indeed the entire mystique of Batman feels like it could go down the tubes with Bruce's sanity.

Grant also just writes one of the best Jokers ever. His Joker really does feel like a dangerous threat who can stand on par with the super-powered set of the DC Universe, as opposed to just an awesome character who gets stuck in the Injustice League on name recognition but never feels like he could go toe-to-toe with the good guys in even a semi-fair fight.

All the stuff flying at you with Nightwing, Talia, Damien, the MIA Robin, the other villains, etc. feels like icing on an excellent hallucigenic cake. The last page reveal didn't feel quite huge enough for what it's supposed to be, but I have full faith that it's only a set up for something more.

One last note: given that it's common practice for Alex Ross to design a boatload of characters and then to have other artists draw them, it's kinda neat that the cover of this issue is Alex painting a bunch of villains that Tony Daniel designed. Quite a feather in my man Tony's cap.


It's no secret that Garth Ennis is not a huge fan of super heroes. THE BOYS is a series he writes, best as I can tell, in large part ot poke fun at super heroes. I, on the other hand, am a huge fan of super heroes. Thus you would think I would not be a particular fan of this book.

But I am.

Having read some of the things Garth has said re: his feelings on the capes and spandex set, it's kinda surprising to me that books like HITMAN and THE BOYS always more respectful than disdainful in their satire of the super hero genre, but I suppose that's just a testament to Mr. Ennis' professionalism.

I picked up THE BOYS initially mostly because I've been ridiculously in love with the art of Darick Robertson since I was a kid reading NEW WARRIORS. However, while Darick's awesome work is a large reason I've stuck around for 23 issues, I've also come to look forward to this book for many other reasons. The aforementioned clever lampooning is one--and it's always fun to wade through Ennis' archetypes and realize which characters he's really poking fun at--and the absolutely charming character of Wee Hughie is another.

Hughie is just such a lovable nice guy who possesses a wide-eyed optimism in the face of overwhelming tragedy that made so many of Ennis' characters in PREACHER so endearing. His very first appearance in THE BOYS back in the first issue, in which his whimsical day at the park with his girlfriend is shockingly interrupted by an battle between careless superhumans that claims her life, set the tone for both character and series right from the start.

The continuing progression of the heartwarming romance between Hughie and Annie that neither realizes is doomed--he doesn't know she's really a super hero, she doesn't know he is one of the guys who takes super heroes down--is one element that makes issue 23 another winner. The kickoff to a new storyline centered around X-Men stand-ins the G-Men is another. Ennis and Robertson's shots at the seemingly endless amount of G-Men, their various spinoff teams and how they are the most popular and merchandised heroes around despite being self-proclaimed "outsiders" is all great stuff. And that last page is a laugh out loud spittake waiting to happen.


I can't think of too many tougher one-two punches to follow on a comic book property than Jack Kirby and then the Neil Gaiman/John Romita Jr. team, but that's the situation writers Daniel and Charles Knauf and artist Daniel (forgive me for not being saavy enough yet to be able to put a tilde over his last name) Acuna have found themselves in with ETERNALS. As a result, I think a lot of folks are failing to give this series a chance, which is a shame in my mind, because it's really quite entertaining.

Mythology has always been a subject I've had a particular affinity for, so the idea of the Eternals, these demigods living on Earth for centuries as part of a beyond epic myth structure and whose exploits have been the basis for most of the legends of man, appeals to me greatly. However, more than any of his other incredible creations, the Eternals felt like the "kids" Kirby just never got the time or had the energy to devote enough to. While this may seem like a bad thing, it actually doesn't have to be, because with the Eternals, Kirby put into place the framework for something great, but never truly got to pull it off himself, meaning for creators approaching the characters, you've got perhaps the greatest creative mind in the history of comics as your leadoff pitcher, but not the ominous shadow cast by something like the original New Gods stories falling over whatever you do (and I apologize for using only half of a potentially fabulous baseball metaphor).

Gaiman and Romita did what I felt was a yeoman's job with their ETERNALS mini and setting the table for these toys to really shine and I think the Knaufs have really embraced the fun and potential of the characters and their quirky world within the Marvel Universe. It also doesn't hurt that Daniel Acuna's art is both beautiful and unlike anything else out there today.

This issue has so much going on that it's your money's worth and then some (and the fact that I'm not paying for it means I just made like $20). The use of one of my favorite Eternals, Gilgamesh the Forgotten One, as a bad ass killing machine provides awesome action. Ajak's betrayal of his "family" and his increasing coldness as well as the fact that his motivation seems almost justifiable (petty, but justifiable still) adds that nice bit of soap operatic pathos. The fate of Thena's son, Joey, and her reaction towards her dad, Zuras, as a result brings the tragedy. And Ikaris getting left behind in a car in the middle of nowhere without the keys throws in both a nice dash of humor as well as the foreshadowing of how much ass Ikaris is finally gonna kick at some point (he's just been simmering thise whole series thus far).

It's a perfect storm of elements for great mythology and the ending is a doozy. Do me a favor and give ETERNALS at least a shot.


First off: that's a lotta fishnets for one cover.

Reading Dwayne McDuffie's JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA has, at times, been a very frustrating experience. The frustration has certainly come not from a lack of talent on Dwayne's part, but rather from the fact that he has never seemed to have really been givena chance to spread his wings and fly. This is one of the guys who made "Justice League Unlimited" one of the best cartoons ever, and it feels like he has spent two years or so now just writing crossover tie-ins. Every time he got a chance to do his own thing, that was curtailed an issue later by another "big picture" issue that felt like going through the motions.

Thankfully, this latest storyline, highlighted by this over-sized 25th issue, finally seems to be Dwayne getting to cut loose on his own terms, and I'm enjoying the heck out of it.

Dwayne has a knack for making everybody from Zatanna to Red Tornado sound like somebody you'd love to just hang out with, and it's on full display in this issue. He's great at humor and he gets a chance to show it. The A-story of the issue, with Vixen taking on creepy and seemingly unstoppable new villain Anansi, gives way to thourougly enjoyable character moments with the rest of the team, tying up loose ends and advancing personal lives nicely. Getting guest artists like Shane Davis and Darick Robertson to pitch in on these asides while Ed Benes handles the bulk of the action stuff with help from Doug Mahnke, Ian Churchill and Ivan Reis is a nice touch that makes the issue feel special and hearkens back to classics like the amazing 200th issue of the original JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA.

That Vixen/Anansi stuff is pure fanboy popcorn, with everything from the nightmare death of the Justice League to an Elseworlds Batman origin featuring one of the best alternate Bats costumes I've ever seen (ever). It's light on the brain, heavy on the fun stuff that always has a place in my read pile.

With McDuffie finally getting a chance to bring his A-game to the plate, this has become a title I'm eagerly anticipating each month.


I am a huge fan of the way Peter Milligan has been using Namor in this new limited series, and that's essentially casting him in the role of the monster/otherworldy creature in a suspense/horror story, having him only show up in quick flashes, always obscured, and making him an incredibly larger than life character. It's an approach I've never seen taken to the character and it's been amazingly effective in my eyes in building his importance and status as it relates to the story being told. When Namor does show up full-on, it's going to be a huge deal, and given this is a guy we see fairly regularly as a Marvel Universe guest star, that's a testament to how good Milligan is.

In general, the idea of doing a Sub-Mariner book that feels more like I'm watching "Cloverfield" or "The Blair Witch Project" is something I never would have thought of, but it's a great idea. After all, what better setting for a claustrophobic thriller than miles under the ocean, cramped into a steel cylinder, beset on all sides by the crushing pressure of the sea and lord knows what else?

Protagonist Randoplh Stein, the cynical scientist out to prove that Atlantis is nothign more than a myth, is a fairly stock character as far as this type of story goes, but he is played perfectly, from his snooty self-assuredness to his social awkwardness around his crew. His dismissal of their superstitions is supposed to make him intellectual, but insteadit just makes him seem naive. His brief and intense confrontation with a beast that may or may not be Namor is at the same time satisfying and terrifying.

That I've gone three paragraphs discussing a book painted by Esad Ribic without discussing the art is once again an indication of just how highly I think of this story. I'm sure there are those who thought this would just be a chance for Ribic to strut his stuff and would sell enough on the merits of him being ludicrously talented as a painter, but Mr. Milligan says otherwise. However, lest you think otherwise, ok, let me state the obvious: Esad Ribic is a frickin' genius and his work on this series is breathtaking. The mood Milligan is going for would be impossible without somebody as good as Ribic creating such a spooky environment and characters who seem real enough to flee off the page from Namor into your living room, tracking seawater on their boots along the way. The facial expressions of Stein courtesy of Ribic are the type that could hang in your nightmares.

THE DEPTHS is, thus far, a true triumph in storytelling, visual as well as otherwise. I'd venture that Milligan and Ribic could have turned this into a fairly successful feature film had they been so inclined, but as both a Marvel employee and a comic book fan, I'm glad they didn't (though if you're reading this, Marvel Studios...)

*=Geoff Johns is not mean. He is a wonderful friend and has done wonders for my career. Please don't kick my ass, Geoff.

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