Sunday, October 19, 2008

Five Comics Worth Reading, 10/15/08

Stop! Read the disclaimer!

Once again, a few honorable mentions to begin...

-Most Silver Age Superman stories drive me insane (Silver Age Legion of Super-Heroes stories, now that's another story...) and since his brilliant debut mini, the Sentry isn't exactly a character who has set my world on fire; thus, you'd think a limited series like Age of the Sentry, which is essentially the Sentry in knockoffs (albeit self-aware knockoffs) of those SA Superman yarns, would be right up not my alley, you'd be wrong. Writers Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin along with their talented crew of artists have created a very neat project that goes all the way with its parody, mixing fun and nostalgia in an intelligent way. This past week's Age of the Sentry #2, in which we started to get the sense that not all was as it seems, added a depth I did not see coming and hooked me all the more.

-Batman Confidential #22 did not come out this week (I don't believe), but I snagged it from the delayed DC comps pile of ol' JC mostly because I wanted to sample the work of relative newcomer Andrew Kreisberg, the writer who will soon be taking over Green Arrow/Black Canary, a title in which I have a degree of interest. So far so good, as in this flashback on the Joker's first night in the custody of the Gotham PD, Kreisberg telegraphs a plot twist way early on presumably because he had the confidence he could still make it resonate, a goal he certainly accomplishes. I'll be keeping an eye on this fella.

-This week also saw the release of Ultimate Origins #5, the conclusion to Brian Michael Bendis and Butch Guice's "filling in the blanks" behind the scenes origin of the Ultimate Universe. It's probably making a quantum leap to compare Ultimate Origins to "LOST," but that has been the prevailing thought on my mind each time I read an issue. I love the way Bendis pulled in every major Ultimate player and made them all connected without (in my opinion) making it seem forced or implausible. The massive conspiracy angle breathes some needed new life into the Ultimate Universe's mission statement and I'm happy this book received the success some feeled it would not achieve.

Ok, main event time...


As I've touched on a bit previously, I've never been a massive Spider-Man fan. I like the character fine, but I much more appreciate the concept (my favored interpretations of which are Ultimate Spider-Man and the movies) and the massive change it brought about in the industry creatively than I have any particular affection for ol' Spidey himself. I think much of this is rooted in my having not grown up in the 60's, 70's or even 80's and forming a childhood attachment to the fondly remembered Spider-Man material of those periods, but rather beginning to read comics in the 90's, when most people thought the Spider-Man franchise was running on fumes; an essay for another day (I seem to be stockpiling those).

However, once in awhile a story will come along in the mainstream Marvel U that clues me in to why people dig this character and his world so much; "New Ways to Die," the six-parter by Dan Slott and John Romita Jr. that wrapped this week, has certainly been one of those stories.

Slott has a great grasp on Peter Parker himself, which of course is a huge advantage if you're going to be writing Amazing Spider-Man. Having to keep secrets from friends and loved ones is of course the classic burden of super hero comics, but Slott did a good job in this arc even in little moments making me feel like it may just be rougher on Peter than most. In Spidey's whole public struggle against the Thunderbolts and in the resolution you can see coming to this latest chapter of his neverending feud with Norman Osborn even before it hits, Slott also conveys why Peter remains the hardest luck hero in an indsutry populated with guys who can't seem to catch a break.

Speaking of the Osborn family, the cranked up to 11 f'ed up dynamic between Norman and Harry really made me blink hard a few times this issue. Slott writes a fantastic Norman, flipping him on a dime from shrewd to callous and embittered to just plain nuts, and nowhere is that more evident than in his warped relationship with his son. Harry's manic need to alternately liberate himself from and please his father makes his scenes palpably uncomfortable and presents a strong contrast to the cool and laid back Harry who is normally presented.

The Osborns are just part of that larger Spidey-centric world that made "New Ways to Die" so fun. Eddie Brock's new role as Anti-Venom is intriguing. The stuff with Mr. Li raises an inquisitive eyebrow. The soap opera between Peter and the various members of his supporting cast has a great deal of potential. Even Peter's new job working for Ben Urich is something I can sink my teeth into. There's a lot going on here and a lot to mine.

Briefly on the matter of John Romita Jr., I absolutely detested his art when I was 12 and he was drawing Uncanny X-Men, but years of growth on both our parts and my enjoyment and appreciation of his work on Daredevil: Man Without Fear, Thor and Eternals, to name but a few, have made me really appreciate what a gift he is to the business. His fight scenes are awesome, his anatomy is so cool and his women are beautiful in a very real (i.e. not cheesecake) way. He's been called the definitive Spider-Man artist of our time and I've got no cause to argue.

But all that aside, I said a couple paragraphs back that this story was "fun," and above all else, that's what it was. There's just something viscerally smile-inducing for even this non-Spidey fan when Spider-Man fights the Green Goblin.

And as a random conclusion, I loved Songbird's last exchange with Spidey; don't know why.


The Legion of Super-Heroes (all of them) + George Perez + so many continuity Easter eggs this comic should be sponsored be Cadbury is a pretty solid equation for getting my resounding seal of approval on a comic book.

Oh, Geoff Johns, you know me so well.

I could honestly write a treatise on all the reasons I love this limited series and this issue, but let's focus on the tangibles.

Of course one of the greatest challenges for anybody writing (or drawing) the Legion (and one of the knocks people will often level against the property) is that the cast is huge. And that's when you're dealing with one Legion. In this book we've got three Legions. And Superman. And Superboy Prime. And a gigantic Legion of Super-Villains. In short, it's practically incomprehensible that any creative team would agree to take on this comic book equivalent of fixing the U.S. economy (topical!), but given that Johns has shown on Justice Society of America that he can juggle over a dozen characters with the best of them and Perez has been attempting to top himself as undsiputed master of cramming more and more characters into splash pages for the last two-plus decades, clearly these are the guys for the jobs.

That aforementioned gigantic Legion of Super-Villains emerges fully formed only a few pages into this issue, and thusly Johns only has a few more pages to flesh them out enough for us to care when they go to war with the good guys; he does so masterfully. Making full use of just a line of dialogue here or a description from a Legionnaire there, he elevates the LSV above the status of a duble page spread of cool costumes and wacky names. Superboy Prime we already know, but the sadistic glee Johns takes in writing his dialogue shines through. Mordru is the crazy old man who is terrifying because he's got more power than he does a grasp of what's happening around him. Saturn Queen is every telepathic character from Professor X on taken to that dark extreme they're always afraid of reaching. Earthman is the arrogant racist with heaping helpings of insecurity swirling about him. Universo is the ultimate absentee father who places his lusts above any sense of responsibility. The Fatal Five is a time bomb. The rest are henchmen, but that's ok. I seriously get all of that from like 10 pages--incredible!

On the flipside, Johns gives as much insight as he can into the Legionnaires by breaking them up into smaller mission groups (an old Paul Levitz trick) and splitting the focus. Ok, the White Witch-Blok and Wildfire-Dawnstar mushy stuff may be a bit overwrought, but it gets you where it needs to emotionally in the shortest amount of time. I could do with a little less perfunctory cursing from Lightning Lad, but the scene where Cosmic Boy finally snaps about leading the team and making the hard choices so that LL and Saturn Girl can have some semblance of a normal life as his erstwhile romantic partner Night Girl looks on stone-faced is one helluva moment. As always, Brainiac 5 is just great.

And speaking of Brainiac 5, I'm sure we'll get plenty more of the actual 3 Legions stuff next issue, but the introduction of the other two groups this go-around (in particular the nerdtastic method used) was great, and the subsequent three-way argument between the three Brainys was jus classic. I hope Johns takes the opportunity to compare and contrast the trio of groups more over the next couple months as his initial attempts were really fun.

But arguably the real star of the issue is Rond Vidar, the final Green Lantern of the 31st century. A supporting character who didn't really get to shine until years after this Legion's prime, Rond gets elevated tremendously here, and his against all odds struggle with the LSV is a tense nailbiter that Johns paces out masterfully. Rond was just another character for me when I read Levitz' Legion, but I really came to care about him really quick here. As for the GL-related revelation that closes this issue...I'll see where it goes (didn't do much for me either way this month).

And what can I say about George Perez? The guy is probably my favorite comic book artist of all time. The thing that impresses me most about George is that he was at the top of the industry over 20 years ago and he has kept himself in demand through to this day by constantly adapting and improving, never resting on his laurels. His art in Crisis On Infinite Earths, which came out back in 1986, remains breathtaking for the amount of detail he works into each panel; had he stopped there he would have been a legend, but he did not. His stuff in 1996 was better than his stuff in 1986 and his stuff today is his best yet. In 10 years, he'll probably be working on a whole new level of awesome. Scott Koblish's inks and the colors from Hi-Fi compliment George perfectly and this is a just a beautiful comic book.

So yeah, I liked it.

I'm a bit curious if this book worked as well for folks not as familiar with Legion lore as myself, so if you're out there, please, speak up.


And here's the other Geoff Johns-penned Final Crisis tie-in mini that seems catered to yours truly.

Rogues' Revenge reunited one of my favorite Flash creative teams of Johns and Scott Kolins for another romp in the playground that made them famous. While the Flash himself (neither my preferred version, Wally West, or that other guy who just came back) may not figure into this book, Johns and Kolins gained much of their acclaim for reinvigorating the Scarlet Speedster's bad guys and making them one of the most popular group of villains around (that they can star in their own book spinning out of DC's biggest event should attest to that popularity). In the last few years since both guys left the Flash and the Rogues behind, Captain Cold and company have fared not so well (to be kind) in the hands of other creative teams. No doubt a principle goal of Rogues' Revenge was to re-re-establish these guys as the badasses they were back around 2004 and try to put the not so great times behind them.

For the most part, I'd say mission accomplished.

Over the course of the two issues prior, the Rogues have regrouped, dispatched their would-be successors with extreme prejudice, and put the DCU back on notice. This issue brought about their pivotal faceoff with Inertia, their secondary showdown with Zoom, and the confrontation with Libra they didn't know was coming, but which was probably my favorite of all.

The fights with Zoom and Inertia are great both because Johns showcases the Rogues' powers in ways he only he can dream up and demonstrates why they're truly a villain team like no other when it comes to loyalty and cohesion. All the stuff about the Rogues' code of honor and the way they look out for each other isn't just lip service; I think what makes the Rogues feel different and cool is best conveyed with Mirror Master trying to explain to the young Trickster why and how he got accepted into the group as a replacement for his predecessor. But aside from that, the action scenes are awesome because this is really what Scott Kolins was built for. With all due respect to the legendary Carmine Infantiono, I truly do believe Kolins has caught up with him (metaphor!) as far as being among the best when it comes to conveying the use of super speed. It's a tricky thing to do without making it look hokey, but the time and effort Kolins puts into putting you in between seconds with guys like Zoom and Inertia (and, of course, the Flash) really shows. He also makes all the other Rogues look phenomenal, but it's the speedster stuff that really drops my jaw.

The stuff that went on with Zoom was unexpected and I'm not quite sure how I feel about it, but it opens up interesting routes for him to run going forward (double metaphor!). It definitely helped the final Rogues vs Inertia battle carry more gravitas and made the end result more satisfying. Loved the role Pied Piper played as well.

But my favorite part about the issue was unquestionably when the Rogues more or less told Libra to f off. I've not been the biggest fan of Libra in FC proper because it seems like most of the explanation of why I should find him cool is going to be done on the back end (see Grant Morrison rant), but I do find him scary and ominous enough that the Rogues turning him down is a stand up and cheer moment that sets them apart from every other DC villain without diminishing him too much (and yeah, I also liked it because I think the Rogues rock and Libra is lame).

So Geoff deciding to write Mirror Master with the thickest Scottish accent ever after eschewing anything like that for years aside, I label Rogues' Revenge an ace success in putting these guys back where they should be, and while I may not be looking forward to a lot of aspects of Flash: Rebirth quite yet, I'll certainly be psyched to see what role these fellas play.


Last issue of Guardians of the Galaxy ended with Drax deciding the only way to ferret out who on Knowhere was a Skrull was to kill everybody onboard and then see who did and didn't revert to green, wrinkly-chinned form. Well, he actually does it to kick off this issue, and the way the situation is resolved in a way that, y'know, allows the book to continue without coming up with a whole new cast, base of operations, etc. is clever and elegant in a manner that is befitting of this title, which can be well-described by both of those adjectives.

Guardians' tie-ins to Secret Invasion have been an interesting change of pace from some others, as the team and their allies and enemies are essentially quarintined in the middle of space, a situation that lends itself better to the whole "Who Can You Trust?" mantra than most. Given that the characters who make up this cast are still getting to know each other besides, their paranoia and quickness to point fingers is something different from the Avengers wondering who of the people they've put their faith in for months or years is going to turn on them. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have definitely seized the opportunities presented them by SI and used them to enhance their book rather than going through the motions and picking up some extra sales.

The simmering distrust from last issue (and really from the four before that as well) all bubbles to the surface here and explodes in some great skirmishes that Paul Pelletier does a great job rendering in a style both bouncy and dark. Quasar vs Drax is brief but brutal. Warlock vs Cosmo is similarly short but tense. Drax vs Cosmo is awesome because Drax kicks a telepathic Russian dog in the face. And then the Guardians vs the Luminals with Major Victory and Starhawk darting in and out of the background is just an enjoyable little clusterf*ck. And, of course, it's all up to Cosmo to clean everything up (I'm starting to see why editor Bill Rosemann loves this pup so much). None of the skirmishes last more than a page or two, but they all add up to a fast-paced ride you get your money's worth on.

Beyond the punching, kicking and telepathic blasts, we also get a nice spot on insight into what's currently making Drax tick (as well as planting the seeds for a potentially excellent addition to the supporting cast) and an ending that could spiral this book off into a number of intriguing directions.


Writer Brian Reed said from the onset in interviews that his goal for this limited series was to basically do "Cloverfield in the Marvel Universe." Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical of whether or not he could pull this off without just ripping the movie directly, but with this issue, I think things really started to click in place and Reed is using themes, influences and plotpoints set up elsewhere to create something unique and well done.

Ostensibly, this is a comic about a bunch of non-powered civilians running scared around dark, secluded areas trying to get away from the looming Skrull menace. Now of course countless horror movies have succeeded off that very premise ("Cloverfield" included) and most of the better ones capitalize on showing the monster as little as possible. However, this is a comic, meaning Reed doesn't have actors to sell his lines, just the lines themselves and his artist, newcomer Marco Castiello. And speaking of Castiello, he doesn't get to draw costumer super heroes or big, scary aliens in this book, he just gets to draw scared teenagers and middle-aged cops.

But Reed and Castiello make it work, and my hat is off to them for that (I seriously was wearing a hat earlier today and have since taken it off).

Reed has help, of course, from Ben Urich, his lead character and one of the great supporting characters in the history of the Marvel Universe. A veteran newspaperman like Ben is the perfect protagonist for a book like this, torn between personal emotions and his drive to do his job. That Ben is not a square-jawed Abercrombie model is, of course, another thing that differentiates this book from just a horror movie knockoff. Ben's devotion to getting the other "survivors" to safety and seeming fearlessness in the face of it is the mark of a great Marvel hero, but that he still whips out his tape recorder to get the guy dying on the table to spill details (whether the cop says it "helped" or not) adds another layer.

Castiello does a wonderful job making the subway and Stark Tower scenes appropriately claustrophobic and ominous, and then flipping the script once Urich is outside and making "occupied" New York desolate in a very creepy way. As a reader, you don't feel safe at any point during the issue, and that's a testament to the fine job these creators are doing.

Telling the "man on the street" side of a story like Secret Invasion is something that has been attempted over the years with varying degrees of success. With this series, I think Reed and Castiello have turned in one of the better efforts and I'm looking forward to seeing where they take it in the final issue as Urich intersects with the climactic battle of SI. Ultimately, I think this story is one that will accompany the rest of Secret Invasion very nicely when it's all released as a whole.

And it needs to be said: that Juan Doe cover just rocks in so many ways.

No comments: