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Trouble with Comics

Action Comics #900

Writers - Paul Cornell, Various

Artists - Pete Woods, Gary Frank, Various

Publisher - DC Comics $4.99 USD

Is “pretty good” really good enough for the longest-running superhero title’s 900th issue? I guess we’ll have to take what we’re served. Cornell and Woods wrap up the Lex Luthor “Black Ring” storyline with Lex gaining ultimate power but losing it because of his fatal flaw—his need to beat Superman. Cornell has done a terrific job the past nine months or so depicting Lex as the complicated genius he’s meant to be, his “evil” due to his intellect overriding personal sentiment. And as this issue emphasizes, he never really had a fair chance to be a nice guy, lacking the parenting Clark Kent had. 

At the same time, Cornell made Lex’s villainy enjoyable; you rooted for the guy to overcome less interesting bad guys like Vandal Savage and Larfleeze, even though you knew a Lex with godlike power would be a very bad thing for the DCU. 

Early in the run, Lex explained that he had created the robot Lois Lane, in part, to provide a different perspective. It was about the first time I can recall Lex essentially admitting he could be wrong about something, or that he could use some help, and it was refreshing. But in this issue, with the robot Lois revealed as a pawn of Brainiac, Lex abandons these ideas, and defaults to his need to best Superman, even though there’s no real need at this point. This would be fine (we all know someone gifted who can’t seem to get over some weakness or other), but Cornell chooses maybe the wrong method: Lex forcing Superman to see the depths of human emotion. It totally backfires, since Lex doesn’t really understand human emotion, even less so now that he’s a god. It doesn’t make any sense. If pale, redheaded chef Bobby Flay achieved godhood, methinks he would take on his nemesis in something cooking-related, right? Not…tanning.

It’s okay, but considerably diluted by a subplot continuing this “Reign of Doomsdays” story that has wound its way through a Steel one-shot, Titans, a Superman/Batman annual and elsewhere. It’s forced into the Lex story as if he had something to do with it, plus it makes Doomsday a less impressive villain, plus nobody likes Cyborg Superman, plus there are too many other artists on deck.

It would have been nice if this 900th issue finished off the Lex story in a stronger, more concise fashion, leaving out the Doomsday story and leaving more room for shorts by some of the biggest talents in comics. Instead, we get a clever, restrained taken on Krypton’s last days written by Lost’s Damon Lindelof, and some other stuff.

Paul Dini is a talented guy but no longer a guarantee of good comics, and his space parable doesn’t work. But comics fans are forgiving and loyal, which may explain the presence of Richard Donner, who is here for directing a good Superman movie over 30 years ago and not much else. Donner has forgotten more about what makes Superman work than most of us will ever know, and in this storyboarded script, he proves it.

David S. Goyer writes the instantly newsworthy story about Superman renouncing his U.S. citizenship so that he will no longer be seen as a symbol of U.S. policy. This results from a hamfisted attempt by Goyer at mixing superheroes with real-world troubles, when Superman shows support for rioters in Tehran by standing still for a long time. Okay? And when did this alien with a fake name ever become a citizen, anyway?

And of course, it couldn’t be a notable DC superhero comic without Geoff Johns showing up. He’s like Snoop Dogg. Do either of them ever turn anything down when they’re not feeling it? Johns’ story isn’t terrible; there’s just nothing to it. Lois invites the Legion of Superheroes over for a party, and they sit or stand around and eat. As nice as Gary Frank draws Lois’ butt, or Timber Wolf eating pizza, it’s not much of a story. As colossal anniversary issues go, it’s okay.

—Christopher Allen

Don’t Let Your Noble Poobah Hardin

DC Universe: Legacies #6 & 7

Writer - Len Wein

Artists - Jerry Ordway, George Perez, Dan Jurgens, Keith Giffen, Brian Bolland, Scott Kolins

Publisher - DC Comics

Aside from one of Giffen’s goofiest styles on a ridiculous Superboy/LOSH backup story, and the ponderous, out-of-place stylings of Kolins on the framing sequences, this series has had some really nice art, particularly for those like me who grew up on a lot of these ’70s-’80s superstars now getting to take a tour with Wein down Memory Lane. Either penciling or inking, any of the pages with Ordway’s hand in them are better storytelling than the majority of what passes for it today. That said, the story—indeed, the entire premise of this series—is pointless. It’s just a jog through some of the DCU’s biggest events, kind of through the eyes of an average guy named Paul Lincoln (except the many times it’s just straight sooperhero action), from ’40s street kid to, as of #7, around a 40 year old police detective in the mid-’90s. Strangely, the Paul who introduces each issue is elderly, far older than the 60 years, give or take, that he would be if he was telling the story today. Maybe we’ll find he’s in the future, I dunno. 

Wein has no problem putting words in Lincoln’s mouth like, “A hero needs only an honest, noble heart,” that would make Superman gag, and the would-be Marvels-style regular guy story is really just a ’40s Warner Bros gangster film plot, with two kids taking different paths and the criminal one getting a chance to redeem himself. If you can swallow the dialogue, and convenient plotting that, say, allows a career criminal to get a job at S.T.A.R. Labs with easy access to experimental armor, all while cramming in the broad strokes of old stories great and small like Crisis, the Detroit JLA, Legends, The Killing Joke, Jon Stewart, the Bloodwynd/Maxima era of Justice League, Doomsday and Knightfall, then this is for you. Mostly, it’s nice to admire some solid artwork and ignore the story. Highlight: the Bolland-drawn “Camelot 500” story with the Atom, Shining Knight, Silent Knight, King Arthur, and Etrigan.

Wolverine #3

Writer - Jason Aaron

Artist - Renaldo Guedes

Publisher - Marvel Comics

Just because Wolverine goes to Hell doesn’t mean he has to take the readers with him. I gave this more than the benefit of the doubt, but man, what an unremittingly boring, repetitive storyline. Each issue is just this demon trying to break Wolverine’s spirit by making him fight more demons and hellish versions of old foes, and Wolvie is an ornery cuss who’s too stubborn to be turned, while Mystique, Daken and Wolvie’s girlfriend flit around trying to figure out how to get to Hell and help him, with zero results so far. Throw in some X-cameos and repeat. Aaron can write a fun, well-paced story, but this one is stuck in first gear. It also seems to have sucked Daken down with it. 

Batman and Robin #17

Writer - Paul Cornell

Artist - Scott McDaniel

Publisher - DC Comics

Yeah, I don’t know why they just didn’t retire Batman and Robin after Morrison left, but whatever. It’s a perfectly good name. So here we have a new creative team, with McDaniel bringing his usual bag of trick to scripting by rising star Cornell. I say rising star, and I like the guy, but with this new villainess The Absence (who we needed like the hole in her head), Cornell might want to be careful he doesn’t overextend himself and become this decade’s Paul Jenkins. It’s okay so far; pretty typical old 'Tec kind of mystery but with grislier details, and some fine is occasionally labored repartee between clenched Damian Wayne take on Robin and the more lighthearted Dick Grayson version of Batman. 

Detective Comics #871

Writer - Scott Snyder

Artists - Jock, Francisco Francavilla

Publisher - DC Comics

Like Cornell, Snyder is quick to start playing with his new toys, in this case having some fun exploring the differences in the Dick/Gordon relationship from the Bruce/Gordon one. For one, Dick doesn’t silently slip away when the conversation is over. It’s cute. Still, I’m looking forward to Snyder digging deeper into what makes Dick a good Batman vs. just a different Batman. This one’s a mystery involving an unseen villain named The Dealer, who deals in hard-to-obtain supervillain stuff like the serum that made Killer Croc the way he is (who would buy this?) and something Poison Ivy-related that makes a would-be squealer grow a tree root out of his mouth. It makes for some good visuals but not much of a coherent story as yet, and one suspects Jock would be put to better use drawing the grim Bruce Batman. That is, he draws Bats exactly the same, but it would make more sense aesthetically if it was Bruce. Snyder doesn’t have a lot of room to get this one going, as he also starts a Gordon backup story, this one with nice art from Francavilla in a stylistic range that seems to be gaining traction (see also Paul Azaceta, Matthew Southworth). My takeaway from these two Batbooks is that the editor(s) are pushing for new villains and shorter story arcs. I’m in favor of the former but it’s too early to judge the results yet, and it makes sense for the latter as well. Three issues + three issues = HC/TPB. Having two arcs per collection conceivably increases the chances of a purchase, and just as far as the monthly series, it’s easier to jump on. Plus, I would not be surprised if this doesn’t also make it easier to get some better artists on for a three issue arc that wouldn’t want to/be able to commit to something longer term. Like, I don’t really see Jock doing 10 issues of this book, do you? I could be wrong about all this, but even if so, it’s not a bad plan. Note: of our players this week, Francisco Francavilla has the most fun name to say out loud.

The Traveler #1

Writer - Mark Waid

Artist - Chad Hardin

Not to take anything away from Stan Lee and his amazing accomplishments, but I’d be curious if his name on a comic really had any positive effect on sales. And this is not even getting into whether he had anything to do with the contents inside. For the record, the comic is copyright both BOOM! Studios and Stan’s POW! Entertainment (we finally got BOOM! and POW! together, but where’s BIFF!?), but Stan’s only credit is the vague, “Grand Poobah.” I imagine Waid and others came up with it and Stan signed off, maybe offering some minor input. Whatever.

As one might reasonably guess, The Traveler is decidedly lighter in tone than Waid’s other BOOM! series, Irredeemable and Incorruptible. Stan doesn’t do scorched earth and kinky sex and psychotic capes. But it’s not even a “feet of clay” type of old Marvel approach, either. Tonally, it’s more like ’50s DC stuff, with a cheerful, time-traveling hero trying to stop some other time-traveling creeps, all the while chattering with a scared African-American mom (with Hardin playing up her MILFy BOOM! POW! attributes a little much). Normally, Waid would be your go-to guy for Silver Age homage, but this one feels a little flat, fast-paced but lacking a distinctive hook or much in the way of characterization, and like he saved his best jokes for another comic. I mean, it reads like an assignment rather than inspiration, and while many of us would take this assignment in a minute, it doesn’t mean it’s going to turn out well.

—Christopher Allen