Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Week of September 1 In Review

The best way to write this column is when I read a book or two to write down what I thought about that book. Unfortunately it seldom works out that way, because if I did that it would take forever to read everything and this column would bore everyone to tears since it would be so long and we are an ADD society. I have heard that there is some theory that all of the computer stuff we do is rewiring our brains, if true I wonder what the ultimate effect will be, possibly endless tangents and prologues.

The first book I read was Brightest Day #9 which based on the cover I thought it was a new issue of Green Arrow. I would love to be behind the scenes in learning how a book like this is started and how much is planned out because the last two issues have really felt like we are trending water as far as plot development goes. I think in a series such as this each issue needs to have something happening to a character that makes an impact. The big reveal this issue that Manta is apparently the new Aqualad’s father is interesting but as I have nothing vested in this character the revelation is nothing more than a precursor for conflict between Aquaman and Black Manta down the road. Half the book revolved around the new Aqualad and getting to see him use gills and we have hints that Mera knew about this kid a long time ago. Don’t get me wrong it is interesting and I want to see more of the story, but I want the story to get going. We are close to the halfway point and very little has happened. The rest of the book was a waste of time with the Martain Manhunter and Ollie in the magical white lantern forest with strange things happening that may signify something happening down the road. I swear there is a good story here, but it needs to happen. With so many characters and all the story ideas being floated around we can have stuff happening now, but it appears we are trending water to build to a crescendo that I fear leads into some other event. If I had been in charge of this project I would have asked them to get to the point sooner with these characters and / or perhaps split the book into two series or do a solo book on each character during the overall series so the main book can move and the solo book can build the back story. It is a good series; I just want it to be a great series. Right now the pacing is not fast enough especially for a twice a month book.

Talk about pacing, I can’t think of a worse thing for pacing then to have an erratic publishing schedule. Stumptown #4, now of 4 hit the stands today. It has been many, many months between issues and we are in the middle of a story that had a cliff hanger of sorts. This should kill any book, but it didn’t. Stumptown is an obvious labor of love for artist Matthew Southworth and his honest and breezy explanation of why this book is so late was just a wonderful end piece after the actual story ended. I was amazed how I was book into the story in a few pages and while some subtle nuances may have been lost due to the delay this was an excellent issue in what I hope is going to be an excellent series. I have no qualms if they do one story a year with Greg Rucka writing and Matt Southworth on the art. I’m hesitant to criticize Matt’s art at all because I’m worried it will drive him to distraction to make it even better. Matt’s work tells a great story. I enjoy the layouts and page designs and I appreciate how much thought goes into what he does and how much he puts into every panel. One example is when Dex is buying coffee and she puts on the roof of her car and it falls off and burns her. It goes to who the character is and adds to the hard luck nature of the character, but it is a small thing and they all add up to a visual gem of a book. Greg’s writing is superb. I love his female leads from White Out to Queen and Country to Dex of Stumptown, they are women who are real with strengths and weaknesses, but at their core good people and people you would want to know. The actual story was well done also. The three issues before had laid out the story of Charlotte being kidnapped and filled in the pieces and why this was happening. Dex’s resolution was very real and she saved Charlotte and herself with one hell of a bluff. As a poker player and occasional gambler it was a very cool move. I will look forward to a trade or hardcover down the road of this arc and hope they keep all the back matter in the book, I can’t wait for the next arc.

Of course after reading that book and having read a quote from Andy Diggle about the big reveal in Shadowland #3 I decided to read that next. What a mistake that was. After enjoying comics again I read this train wreck. Why I’m torturing myself with this dren is beyond me, I have to assume I want to see exactly what they plan to do to poor Matt Murdock. The issue starts with what has to be one of the worse covers I have seen from John Cassaday. I hope this cover was an aberration, but he should call Warren Ellis and ask him to write another comic for him to draw as he is losing the luster that used to be associated with his name, especially while doing Planetary. The actual story, perhaps story is too strong a word, the actual sequence of events is: 1) a fight scene in Shadowland prison with Ghost Rider. 2) A fight scene with DD and his group versus the good guys that ends with the Punisher showing up shooting many ninjas and saving the good guys’ asses. 3) Lady Bullseye telling the Kingpin Ghost Rider will be miffed that he was controlled by the Kingpin through a mystical scroll. 4) DD deciding to resurrect Bullseye to be a servant for him. 5) Master Izo revealing that DD is being used by an ancient evil force called the Beast of the Hand that is taking over Matt Murdock and the beast wants to ………………YES, END HUMANITY ITSELF. I loved Losers, I loved Green Arrow Year One and I can’t believe this tripe is being written by Andy Diggle. To be kind I will call Billy Tan’s artwork uneven. There are so many things wrong with this book starting with characters acting out of character and this reveal was already pretty well established earlier in the series. The characters being pulled together for this make limited sense and it is awkward just reading the book as it feels like a team-up book of yesteryear when people came together for no reason at all. If the idea is to make people not want to read Daredevil, then bravo Marvel as it is a job well done. If they are retiring the book, I hope they do a “Thor” and leave him out of the MU for a couple of years and have various people pitch ideas on how to bring him back. Heck I would love to see some new kid pick up the mantle and become the next Daredevil.

After that I decided to check out a book I picked up on a whim. I have ignored the Hulk for a long time, but now that the convoluted Red Hulk and War of Hulks is done I thought let’s see what Greg Pak is doing with Incredible Hulks #612. It is funny because I have always felt that I had a tenuous connection to Greg Pak. Greg and my nephew Joe Pleiman both were at NYU and had films at the same time at a sort of senior film convention. I believe Greg’s was a Master’s Degree project and was about his family and my nephew’s was an under graduate short film that starred my daughter Jamie in a cool little horror film. Then I met Greg in Bethesda with my nephew in attendance as Greg was previewing the film Robots. So having that sort of connection has always made me more willing to try Greg’s stuff. Heck I was loving the Hulk stuff and was looking forward to where it would go after World War Hulk, but it all got shanghaied (IMO) by Loeb. Loeb is gone and so I’m back to check out what we have now. It was fun and kept my interest enough to bring me back for the next issue. We have Bruce Banner (who can apparently become the Hulk again), one of his sons (Skarr), a possible alternative future daughter (Savage She Hulk Lyra), She-Hulk, Rick Jones as a hulk like monster called A-Bomb (when did that happen?) and Korg a stone monster from the first Thor story many, many moons ago and finally the resurrected Betty Banner as the Red She-Hulk. More Hulks then you can shake a stick at. Greg does the first half of the book about that group and does a nice job of bringing a lapsed Hulk reader back into the fold with a tragic little tale of Bruce trying to unsuccessfully reconnect with Betty. The back half of the book is about the Hulk’s other son Hiro-Kala who is apparently going to come into direct conflict with the Hulk Family. This story by Greg and Scott Reed does a nice job of giving us some back story in order to set up that conflict. Not a perfect book, as Hiro-Kala already has a convoluted back story that would make Cyclops or Power Girl proud giving his short history, but still a good jumping on point to the beginning of a new arc.

From there we moved to Scarlet #2, the new Brian Bendis Alex Maleev Icon book. I’m not a Bendis fan or hater and I did not like issue #1 but there are bits and pieces of Scarlett I like. She has learned the authorities are against us and wants to bring it all down through violence and I assume other means. At this point the series is starting with police forces being the nexus of corruption and Bendis paints a portrait of the police that is as bad as anything you could want to see. Personally I think our government has become corrupt and at the highest levels the government is owned by corporate interests. Lobbyists from the banking industry write the new laws to regulate them. Every Senator is usually a millionaire before they leave office, they are getting special deals and treatment, it is as corrupt as any other government and we all pretend it is much cleaner then it is. Hell we all stick our heads in the sand that the country is bankrupt. But Scarlet is pretentious and simplistic to the nth degree. It is all neat and pretty and works out great. A girl who is upset over what happens to her dupes the bad police officer and kills him. The bad man tells her he has $700,000 stashed and now she will go get the money and start her revolution. She does all while breaking the fourth wall and talking right to us. Wow this is just so cool, at least a large portion of people under 30 may think so, for me it is weak writing, poor motivation, storytelling made convenient. The characters work because they are cardboard cutouts given lines. There is no real character development; Maleev’s artwork uses a ton of computer effects that make certain sequences feel really out of sorts. I get the appeal, I feel it too. I hate the system we have built and I sometimes think an armed insurrection maybe the only way to make it work, but justifying a cold blooded murder just can’t happen. Scarlet is a cold blooded murder and apparent sociopath. I can’t root for her revolution when it is only a convenient excuse for her to go out and kill people. Replacing one unjust system for another unjust system makes no sense. I want a revolution but I’d rather follow a Chris Christie before Scarlet. I have decided to drop the book, what a shock. This is pure tripe with self pretentious overtones masquerading as an artist triumph. Those that are enjoying this book probably have had limited exposure to the real world and probably mainly read super hero stuff so this all seems edgy and cool to them.

Next up is Wolverine #1 as Wolverine Goes to Hell. A story so exciting we needed three new #1 issues as this effects the Wolverines or Wolvy Family of Daken and X-23 his son and the female clone of Wolverine (I only report this stuff). For this to be a truly “important” Wolverine story it will have to spread out and affect Avengers, New Avengers, X-Men and X-Force. For this idea to have any merit it has to play across the entire MU. When Bruce Wayne and Steve Rogers died they did not appear in any books that were in current continuity. I’m curious to see how committed Marvel is to this storyline and is this just the first arc or the beginning of trying to give Wolverine a new status quo. The premise seems simple, Wolverine is experiencing some sort of existential crisis and somehow his soul is sent to hell while his body is roaming the earth wrecking havoc. That was the entire first issue and is playing off the continuity already established in Weapon X if I’m reading this right as I gave up on that book. I like Jason Aaron on Scalped and still have mixed feelings on his Marvel work, but this book will get a test drive of more than one issue.

Astro City The Silver Agent #2 (of 2) was an interesting book. I wish the story had been released as one oversized issue as I lost some of what the first issue had set up. What I took away from the book was that the Silver Agent (read Silver Age) was truly heroic and his dying spawned an entire generation of heroics that will continue on forever. Having grown up on Silver Age comics with all of the simplistic morals and old fashioned virtues in them I certainly get the idea as I certainly feel like I have a set of principles that I try to live by and I still have that Pollyanna streak in me. It was a touching story and a nice epilogue to the Dark Age.

After that I got to Proof #28. The whole Julia saga, the publishing schedule that has been sporadic at best as we moved to the last issue for now, has thrown me off this book. I want to like Proof because I loved the series when it began. Now I’m lost as to who is who and what the heck is going on. The end part just confused me even more and then the back matter said that Leander was never Leander, I totally missed that part. If I was just following Proof (or only 25 or so series) maybe this would still be working for me, but the wrap up of this series before going on hiatus made me feel like I don’t even know the characters anymore. I will be back for the mini-series because I believe the creators are getting their act together and will refocus and get it right again; I’m concerned that the meandering way we got to the end could lose some readers.

So far outside of Stumptown this week is not getting me out of my comic book funk, onto the rest of the stack to see if I can be happy with my comics again! One quick note since I had some books left over from last week I maybe including them in my commentary as well.

I’m a little mad at myself that I allowed myself to be caught up in the Marvel Universe versus the Punisher. The third issue was okay, but this series is not worth the $4 a pop they are charging. Plus it has become too darn plot heavy for a book that should be about the Punisher trying to cap all the heroes affected with some sort of plague.

The second issue of Superman The Last Family of Krypton was another well done issue. I’m very impressed with Cary Bates and if he has the time DC should put him on a regular series. The man can flat out write a good comic book. He has taken the idea that Superman arrived on Earth with his Mom and Dad and weaved a great story about fathers and sons. I love the interaction between Kal and Jor, how Lex has become a surrogate son of Jor-El, how the twins are not as powerful as their parents or Kal and on and on. Renato Arlem’s art is an added bonus. I love his style and in fact would like to see him have a regular book, but maybe with all the detail to his work he may be better off with this type of project. Finally since the “real” continuity has remained so stagnant it is a pleasure to see a Superman who is living a life and one that is growing as a person and a hero.

Justice League Generation Lost continues to hang in there for me. Since we have a rotating art team I find the Aaron Lopresti issues work better for me then Joe Bennett. The actual story by Judd Winick has slowly won me over. I’m hot and cold with Judd’s work but between this and his Red Hood mini-series he is becoming more and more of a sure thing. Also with the JLA being in such a horrendous slump the rebuilding of Justice League International is a welcome thing. I think it also helps that I dropped Booster Gold as I’m enjoying seeing Michael Carter become a leader in his own right.

Of course after that issue I went and read Justice League of America #48. This was the final issue of the Starheart story and I’m assuming the final Brightest Day tie-in issue. At this point it is a mercy that the story is over. James Robinson is making Bendis look like a genius on group books. Some writers are not meant to write a group book and the JLA has been a disaster with Robinson on the book. Plus the cast that he has been reduced to working with on the JLA is nothing short of a joke. Outside of Batman the group has Donna Troy, Starman (the blue alien one), Congorilla, Supergirl, Cyborg (I think) and Jessie Quick. It is like he lost a bet or something. JLA Detroit is almost looking good in comparison. DC has forgotten that the JLA needs to be their big guns and premier heroes. If they are not available due to editorial fiat just forgot doing a JLA book. If this title was created with a different group name and they were not pretending to be the JLA the book may work a little better. Robinson is working overtime to give each member a voice and develop his characters, but when it is all put down as thought boxes it is like listening to the radio with the TV on. Too many voices and it becomes noise.

The Mignolverse has expanded a little with a new title Baltimore The Plague Ships. The second issue gave us more back story on Lord Baltimore and his experiences with the vampire he is hunting and why he is hunting him. The first issue did not win me over, but this issue drew me in and I’m hooked at least for this five issue arc (I’m not sure if we are getting more or if this is a one and done). I’m amazed at the prolific nature of Mignola and I appreciated that he has co-writers to keep things flowing. I’m curious if Mike is more of the architect of things and the actual scripts are left to the co-writer or how the how process works. I’m also amazed at the number of artists who work on all the titles that each bring their own style and yet Dave Stewart (the colorist) keep the books all looking like they are part of the same world.

I love Jeff Parker’s work and the Agents of Atlas, I also enjoy the spotlight the individual members have gotten, so it was nice to see the conclusion of the Gorilla Man with the third of three issues hitting the stands. It was both a solid adventure as well as a detailed back story on Ken Hale, interwoven nicely throughout the entire series. I would have preferred no reprint back up stuff as they were not related to the character and a $3 price tag, but otherwise another good job by Jeff on these characters.

This batch of books also brought out Choker #4 (of 6). When Image has a late, late book I assume the sales sucked and it was no longer being published. For whatever the reasons, Image has a lot more of those series then almost any other publisher. I’m guessing it is due to the fact that the creators pay to have the books published or something along those lines. Anyway I was happy to see it back and Ben Templesmith gave us a mea culpa regarding the lateness with no true explanation, but the problem for me is I’m lost as to what was going on even with the introduction. I love Templesmith’s art so I will hang in there but even with the introduction in the beginning I was lost. I think some it was due to the writing and structure of the story and some was due to the very long gap between issues.

I’m not sure why but I’m commenting on every book I have read so far which will make this one long column, but it is what it is and I’m sure I will drop commenting on some books as I proceed.

Jeff Lemire is a creator whose work I have come to love the last year or so with Essex County, Mr. Nobody, his initial super hero work and of course Sweet Tooth. Issue #13 is using all that he has built to push the story forward on multiple fronts. We have the militia group finding Sweet Tooth’s cabin where he grew up as they explore the mystery of Gus. Gus (Sweet Tooth) is having dreams that either he had a father that was like him or something else. Jepppard has recruited two women he met before to go into the city and work out some deal with the Animal Men who run the city. This is just the bare bones of what happened in this issue and one reason I love this book is the constant forward progress and the fact that the mysteries around this world are being revealed as we move forward. I read that Lemire does not like to do a story unless it has an ending and I certainly hope this is the case with Sweet Tooth as the best stories have a beginning middle and an end. It doesn’t mean we can’t have a second story with the characters it is just the impetus for the initial story has a conclusion.

Marvel has very few series that I enjoy anymore but Hawkeye and Mockingbird #4 is an issue of one of the series I have found entertaining. What I like about it, besides a good story and solid art and $3 price point, is the fact that these characters should be able to maintain their own corner of the MU. What I mean by that is the book can have these characters advance and their appearances in Avengers or New Avengers should have no consequences for the characters and therefore no impact on this series. I don’t need or even want every series to be like that, but I find it works for certain situations and certainly works for this series. So far, so good let’s hope Marvel does not muck it up. Additionally this book boost David Lopez on pencils and Alvaro Lopez on inks. These guys were the art team on Catwoman for a long run and have been working on these characters starting with the mini-series and now this book. I find these guys to be some of the best super hero artists that not enough people talk about. They have clean lines; great story telling and seem to be able to hit a monthly schedule without sacrificing any quality to their work. One day someone will notice these guys are doing stellar work and they should get a high profile assignment from Marvel or DC.

Jonah Hex #59 had Jordi Bernet art, so that is always good, but the story was a little convoluted. We started with a story about the Gray Ghost and why he is after Jonah. Then we switched to the story about who Jonah is going after, which had a level of complexity to it involving the bad guy’s brother that was never fully developed. The end of the story the Gray Ghosts (apparently a group of men) show up to kill Jonah as Jonah is going after his bad guy. The groups clash, the bad guy Jonah is after escapes, the bad guy brother dies; it just never tied together very well. Maybe this is a two part story or will be concluded at some later date, but as a standalone issue it did not hold together.

Wow, that will have to be it for this week. I didn’t finishing reading everything so maybe next week I will include some of those books, although I doubt it. I think I proved my point about trying to write about each book after I read one or three of them. The column gets to be way too long.


  1. Agree with the overall sentiment about comics in a funk, I feel it too. Other than isolated books like Scalped, Grant Morrison looniness (not great, but damn entertaining), just not a whole helluva lot going on right now.

    Totally disagree with you on Scarlett on two points. One, you really rip people like me (I'm well over 30 and very well adjusted thank you) who like it, which I think would be as ridiculous as me trying to classify everyone who doesn't like it as "Corporate Simplists" like you who see corruption everywhere.

    But here's the deal. I think the thing you have wrong about Scarlett is that you seem to think that you need to endorse Scarlett's viewpoint in order to enjoy the book. That's nonsense. One, she lives in comic books, not the real world. This is fiction, not an auto-biography, so your judging her seems a little over the top. Second, what if Scarlett comes around to agree with you and calls off her revolution at the end of the story? Would you then like it? My point is you don't have to think Ahab was thinking clearly to enjoy Moby Dick, what you have to do is be able to identify with the character at some level and get told a good story. I find the idea that you're having a completely normal day and then a totally random homocide occurs to your boyfriend and puts you into the hospital...and how you would react fascinating.

  2. Sometimes in reviewing something I go over the top and anytime you generalize you will be wrong part of the time, so I grant you your point.

    Also I do not have endorse her viewpoint, but why would I want to pay $4 a month to read about someone I dislike and have no respect for and feel is a cardboard character.

    I find Scarlet to be full of holes. Her character is paper thin and her motivation is suspect at best. The characters are so exaggerated as to make Superman seem real. The conversations if spoken aloud crumble into something even most comic book characters would be ashamed to say. Show this book to someone who is not into comics and lets get an outsiders viewpoint and I think that could be interesting.

    Finally and ultimately it is just my viewpoint of the book and I will vote by not buying issue #3.

    Thanks for you thoughts and stop by anytime.

  3. Hey Jim, I figure you like getting some blog traffic...I love the reviews, but saying "I agree with you!" for some of your other reviews is boring, so I thought I'd poke at the one I didn't agree with, particularly since it seemed to personally attack those of opposing viewpoints.

    Your viewpoint is 100% valid, I would never argue otherwise. You say you can't relate to her and find her too unrealistic, that's your perogative.

    Her motive is fine. She's pissed that "the world" took away the thing she loved the most, and she feels like it is only now that she truly "sees" the world, doesn't like it, and will (ultimately futily I imagine) change it.

    Keep writing! I'll keep reading. Love the website. --Urthona