Trouble with Comics

Swamp Thing #0

Writer: Scott Snyder

Artist: Kano

DC Comics. $3.99 USD

There are parts of this issue I loved. Those would be pages 1-3. We seem to be seeing the story of a Swamp Thing prior to Alec Holland, a skinnier one who lived in a cabin in Manitoba and helped grow the crops after the spring thaw. I would’ve been quite happy learning more about this guy and seeing how Kano drew him. 

But then Snyder goes for what I don’t think is absolutely a mistake, but for me, an unnecessary and less interesting choice, which is to show that Anton Arcane is not just this bad wizard who continues to haunt the life of Alec Holland and those he cares about, but that he’s this agent of Rot, the forces of decay and entropy always at war with the Green (plant life) and the Red (animal life). I don’t have a problem with the whole Red/Green/Rot thing, though I think it’s occupied too much of both Swamp Thing and Animal Man, and it’s not that I have a strong attachment to an earlier characterization of Arcane. It’s not even that I’m against a fatalist approach. But man, it’s just gotten so overdone. I remember back, about ten years ago, when John Byrne did it in Spider-Man: Chapter One, rewriting history so that Norman (Green Goblin) Osborn was tied to Spider-Man’s origin and retroactively his primary nemesis. It wasn’t the primary failing of that series, but it just seemed kind of an easy, uninteresting idea. And since then, lots of comics have done the same thing when they rebooted. It’s completely unfashionable to just have bad guys show up and screw with your life because they feel like it and you’re in the way. No, it has to be destiny, some connection that goes back to primal forces beyond your control. So now we have an Arcane who seems to live for nothing but killing Swamp Things or future Swamp Things (in fact, he really enjoys killing them in the neonatal ward). He’s not a brilliant antagonist now; he’s just a monster who takes pleasure in what he does but doesn’t seem to have a choice in doing it. He’s just the biggest cog in a machine, just another agent in another shadowy group like the ones that made a decent show like True Blood into an embarrassment in a few seasons. Or, to bring it back to not only comics but Scott Snyder comics, why The Court of Owls are boring as shit. They’re just shapes and costumes and vague, sinister plans. Not a character in them. Characters are more interesting when they’re self-directed and unique and pursuing individual goals or compulsions. Anton Arcane is basically mold that talks out loud about how much he’s enjoying ruining your bread. 

—Christopher Allen

My Comics July

I’ve been doing more of my own fiction-writing these days, as well as a lot of reviews of movies and other things at my other blog, so it really seems like a modest but achievable goal is to do maybe one or two comics posts here every month. Thus, since I’m going on vacation this weekend and not likely to write anything else for a week or so, my Comics July.

It’s just under a year for DC’s New 52, and despite trying at least the first issue of about 49 of them, the only ones I am still reading are Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., The Shade, Action Comics, Batman, and Batman Incorporated (this last one having only relaunched in the last month). What you can infer from these is that I still have some affection for Grant Morrison’s writing and will see his exit from superhero comics (Batman Inc. is fun, Action more miss-than-hit, and the upcoming Multiversity stuff sounds interesting). I also somewhat enjoy Scott Snyder’s writing, though I’m not that interested in tying in old business like Arcane to the somewhat fresher Red/Green/Rot stuff. I guess it’s fair to say that’s just an expansion of stuff Alan Moore came up with many years ago when he wrote the series, but at least it’s a little new and not something that has been explored much before. I am pretty tired of the whole Court of Owls stuff on Batman, but you know, I like Batman and it’s not a bad book, though not a good one.

Jeff Lemire has done all right on Animal Man and Frankenstein, though the art on the former, while distinctive and great at the weird, disturbing scenes, is also distancing for what seems to be a comic that wants to be about familial strength and those bonds being stronger and more important to the lead character than doing superhero stuff. Frankenstein started with some interesting ideas but seems to be treading water, or maybe it’s more accurate to say it has digressed into the Rot stuff when it should be working more on making its characters distinctive. I still don’t really get Frankenstein, much less the rest of his groovy ghoulies. Overall, even with just two writers on these three series, I think tying them all together with the same menace has made each book less special.

I still read a lot of Marvel, though not much has stood out. Daredevil has regained some of its footing with Chris Samnee on art, a good choice, and Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man, though unfortunately uneven artistically, has been consistently entertaining and presented a recognizable but more mature Spider-Man. Avengers vs. X-Men has improved of late, with nice Olivier Coipel art and a few chunks of issues that made sense, though a lot of the plotting is stupid and/or redundant. Why would godlike X-Men fear Scarlet Witch so much, and why is essentially dressing up some Avengers to look like her a good idea when the X-Men have telepaths who should be able to figure out who’s who?

I’m reading more Image books than I have in maybe ever, mostly creator-owned stuff. I can’t confess to loving any of it, but Saga has been imaginative and amusing if not immensely engaging yet, and I’ve also enjoyed the sort of arty take on superheroes and apocalyptic sci-fi in Glory, Prophet, while The Manhattan Projects feels so far like Jonathan Hickman going back to the well and getting S.H.I.E.L.D. right. I was into Hickman’s Secret at first, but the second issue was kind of insulting, with a cliched gangster scene and an obvious reveal stretched out to the end of the issue with four panel pages of not much going on.

I suppose, given how much his work has meant to me, that I should write more about the latest Alan Moore League of Extraordinary Gentleman book, Century: 2009, but it was just okay. Some lovely ideas, typically good Kevin O’Neill artwork and of course, it feels like good value because you read it slowly, trying to pick up on all the pop culture references. But while I appreciate that pretty much all of Moore’s work has some terrific layers to it (I’ve not doubt there’s a great story behind even garbage like Deathblow: Byblows), here, the meta-story about Moore’s disillusionment with the comics industry and the rest of popular culture is more interesting than the plot. Making fun of Harry Potter should have been more fun, right?

Having boycotted Darwyn Cooke’s latest Parker adaptation, The Score, and with no really memorable Hellboy or B.P.R.D. books this month, the only book to really excite me was IDW’s Artist Edition of David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again. I’m not like ADD—I don’t read even my favorite comics over and over again, so it had been probably 20 years since I read this story. It still holds up very well, with an absolutely bulletproof first issue, although I think once it gets to the Nuke/Captain America issue, Daredevil is kind of a guest star in his own book. But while you can see some signs of writer Frank Miller’s eventual shock and awe style, he keeps things relatively restrained here, relying on Mazzucchelli to convey Captain America’s disgust and shame and the mental breakdown of Nuke. The main story of Daredevil/Matt Murdock’s ruination by the Kingpin and subsequent rebirth is not perfect, either. Matt’s flirtation with paranoia and despair is a little too brief, and how does he survive for so long on the streets? Was he homeless? And sure, seeing old girlfriend Karen Page now a junkie whore may have seemed like a progressive move for superhero comics then, but now feels a little cheap and mean. Of course it’s the woman who wrecks things for the hero. Since there was nothing to really be done with Karen once she came back to Matt, better to maybe have left her out entirely and make Matt’s downfall come from his own hubris. I don’t know, maybe I’m just blaming a lot of lesser grim and gritty comics on this early example, which doesn’t get nearly the blame as Miller’s Dark Knight Returns or Moore’s Watchmen and The Killing Joke. Despite its flaws, it’s still one of the better superhero stories ever written, and Miller and Mazzucchelli work so well together they can pretty much pull off anything they try here. The presentation of this book is exquisite, with oversized, heavy-weight black and white pages and a few vellum overlays to show the reader some of the more complex effects Mazzucchelli used on covers and some interior pages. Seeing what amounts to faithful photographs of the original boards makes this not only the most exciting way to experience the story but also the most intimate. Without distracting from what is a real page-turner, one still takes away the immense effort, the will to do something memorable, on the part of the artist. I can’t really imagine reading this again in the small, color format.

—Christopher Allen

We Do Annual

When I was growing up, in the ’70s and ’80s, the superhero comic annual was generally a big, stand-alone story, often by the same creative team as the monthly comic, or maybe the same writer and an even better artist who didn’t draw monthly books much anymore (Michael Golden, Jim Starlin). Guys like John Byrne and Frank Miller did quite a few annuals when they were coming up, and some after they were big names. 

The late ’80s and ’90s brought themed annuals, where a story would wind its way across the annuals of several titles, something like Atlantis Attacks for Marvel, or DC’s Legends of the Dead Earth. You could get some really nice work, or you could get guys who really weren’t good enough for the major leagues and might disappear soon after. As popular characters received spinoff series, and done-in-one stories became one-shots or graphic novels, the annual fell out of fashion. 

For whatever reason, it looks like Marvel and DC are trying some annuals again, though how widespread an effort remains to be seen.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #39

Writer: Brian Reed

Artist: Lee Garbett

Marvel Comics $4.99 USD

This one falls into the “not the regular team” category. Neither Reed nor Garbett are newcomers, but neither has a regular monthly gig. Reed takes this opportunity to spin off a story from something Dan Slott wrote in the regular book months ago, where Peter Parker’s Horizon Labs coworker creates a time machine that almost leads to the destruction of New York. Here, in one moment of that story, this same invention leads to Peter being removed from time itself. This leads to flashbacks to his childhood and high school days, where he’s still somehow aware of his adult self, even as he goes through the current, altered timeline, seeing how in many ways, things have turned out better without him in the world. Mary Jane is a big star. Norman Osborn, not having Spider-Man to haunt his thoughts, has cured cancer. And Uncle Ben is still alive and living in the same house in Forest Hills, Queens. 

Meanwhile, the Avengers are tracking down the source of these chronal disturbances, mainly just to get some costumed heroes into the book, since Peter never has a reason to become Spider-Man. Garbett delivers pleasant but thoroughly average work, though in his defense, there isn’t anything exciting to draw here. The scenes between adult Peter and a proud Uncle Ben are sweet, and probably worth the price for some, but Reed’s story is sorely lacking in suspense and complications. Without any real effort, Peter just kind of walks through these episodes, which seems to gradually return things back to normal, even though it’s his presence that caused the problem in the first place. 

Batman (vol. 2) Annual #1

Writer: Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV

Art: Jason Fabok

DC Comics $4.99 USD

Scott Snyder, regular Batman scribe, co-writes this one with his former Sarah Lawrence student, James Tynion IV, who will also be co-writing some backups for the regular book. Unfortunately, while that’s a nice human interest story, the actual results in this annual are rather drab and, like most annuals, quite unnecessary. 

Bearing the “Night of the Owls” banner on the top, and yes, a couple owls on the generic cover for dubious reasons, this extra-long tale actually has little to do with the ongoing Owls story. That would be fine, as I’m already getting tired of it, but Snyder and Tynion sure don’t have a double-length story worth telling here. The connection to “Night of the Owls” is that Mr. Freeze created the serum that makes Owl assassins able to be revived after they seem to die. We meet Freeze as he makes his escape from Arkham. Fortunately, despite what one would think are stringent hiring protocols and training on safe patient handling, we get a couple cruel, stupid guards who make this escape easy. Freeze wants to get his beloved, frozen wife Nora back, so that he may yet cure her. 

Jason Fabok, whose work is new to me, does a fine if undistinguished job. As with Garbett’s work above, nothing really stands out in terms of style or storytelling choices. It’s very typical DC fodder.

Nightwing and Robin try to stop Freeze, while we get several page-burning flashbacks to Victor Fries’ childhood and then his time working in a Wayne Industries lab. Snyder/Tynion engineer things so that Bruce Wayne comes off rather heartless in his shutting down Fries’ attempts to cure Nora, therefore justifying Fries’ craving for vengeance. And it should surprise no one who has read two comics written by Snyder that the childhood flashback features a parent saying or doing something that has a monumental impact on the child’s future. Often, it’s just an anecdote, something a father said once that ties perfectly into the events of today, but in this case it’s young Victor, who always loved Winter, seeing his dear mother fall through the ice on the frozen lake. Look, canon may have saddled the writers with the corny coincidence that Mr. Freeze’s real last name is Fries, but that doesn’t mean you have to come up with a pivotal moment that involves ice. 

Like an icicle falling from the rain gutter to the driveway below, Snyder and Tynion demolish the only pathos-evoking element of Mr. Freeze: his deep love for, and relentless efforts to cure, his wife, Nora. Turns out, Nora was just an frozen research project—like a fetal pig in a jar—from the ’40s that Fries wrote his thesis on. He never met her, she’s old enough to be his grandmother, and so his love is false and insane. That’s colder than a gravedigger’s ass, as my father once said, which led to my becoming a sexton. Somehow this results in a story both forgettable and yet risible.

—Christopher Allen

DC Week Three – Birds, Bats and (thankfully) Some Wonder

To be honest, DC almost beat me to the ground with their insulting Catwoman / Red Hood and the Outlaws combo punch to my four-color inner faith, but the rest of the books for this week couldn’t be that bad, could they?  Could they?!?

Well, thankfully, the answer is no.  So in UPC order…

Supergirl #1 manages to be a pretty good start to the series but having said that it feels wafer thin.  Supergirl crashes to Earth, fights a bunch of guys who are wearing armor and her cousin arrives on the scene.  The End.

But as thin as the story was, it does manage to capture the confusion and fright that this young alien feels as she arrives on a strange planet and finds herself with all these amazing powers.  Hopefully her origin has been well thought out, because in recent years Supergirl has had more reboots than the Legion of Super-Heroes.  Hopefully this one will stick.

Ahh Wonder Woman.  Ahhhh Cliff Chiang.

Writer Brian Azzarello does a great job of introducing Wonder Woman because he assumes, rightfully, that we know who she is.  She’s tall, she’s an Amazon and she’s got some connections to the Greek Gods.  Anything else (and anything that’s been changed, enhanced or modified) about the character doesn’t need to be established this issue because, as I said, she’s Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman #1 is a strange book because not only does it read better the second time, it almost demands a second reading.  Azzarello expects the reader to keep up with the story and if you don’t know who the weird guy is on page one, well you can re-read the issue and it will all come together.  And after comic after comic that spoon-feeds everything about the characters, his style is refreshing.

As for artist Cliff Chiang – his stuff is simply gorgeous.  Some people aren’t huge fans of his art and I don’t know what they’re not seeing.  The Wonder Woman he draws conveys compassion, power and strength.  He even manages to make a nude Princess Diana appear majestic and powerful rather than the bimbo-ized and lobotomized cheesecake we had to endure with Catwoman and Starfire.  Diana is nude in bed because she’s an Amazon; Catwoman has her breasts exploding from beneath her costume because the creators didn’t know what else to do with the character.

Wonder Woman and Batwoman don’t make up for the awfulness of Catwoman and Red Hood, but at least they have characters that are strong and intelligent rather than the awful wish-fulfillment fantasies of the latter two books.  If Wonder Woman could now lose the ridiculous (and probably Jim Lee mandated) necklace/choker/WW thing around her neck – that would be a good thing. 

DC Universe Presents #1 is the awkwardly named anthology series that will have mini-series after mini-series featuring a character not quite strong enough for their own on-going book.  This issue presents Deadman and while there is some really good stuff going on, it fails in one aspect.

Boston Brand is back as Deadman and the issue explains what a wretched human being he was while he was alive and how he is given a chance to redeem himself.  The part of the book that deals with him meeting with ‘god’ is powerful and moving as he is shown how his soul teeters on the edge, but there is an opportunity for him to redeem himself.

The problem is this: it’s never made clear what Deadman is doing now that he’s back and temporarily taking possession of the living’s bodies.  The old series had Deadman trying to find his killer and then he would pop around the DC Universe as a guide or to help some hero out.  Most recently he had a starring role in Brightest Day that had him alive and then dead again.

But now that he’s back to being just plain old hopping-from-body-to-body Deadman, we have no idea what purpose he has.  This issue is just intriguing enough that I’m curious to see where it goes, but hopefully the next issue will show us where the character is heading.  The concept of Deadman has always been great, but they need to show why the character matters, otherwise he’ll always remain a secondary, background hero.

Batman #1 is what a good Batman comic should be: a fight scene or two, some interaction with Alfred and the other cast members, a sense that Bruce Wayne is on the cutting edge of technology and that Batman is always twenty steps ahead of everyone else. 

Scott Snyder proved that he could handle the character (even when it was only Dick Grayson) in Detective Comics and his transition (and graduation?) to Bruce Wayne is flawless.

The artwork by Greg Capullo is a bit of a mixed bag: utterly gorgeous at times (his depiction of the villains in Arkham and, later, a double-page spread of the Batcave are stunning with one being monstrous and the other feeling huge and isolated), but confusing at other times (the heights of Dick, Tim and Damian seem wildly out of proportion, and a mayoral candidate could be Bruce Wayne’s double if it wasn’t for a slightly different hairstyle and a difference in the ties they’re wearing).

But it’s a very promising start to the series.  And, yes, this Batman once again has the police co-operating with him, which again makes me wonder what went wrong with Detective Comics.  But since I’m quite happy to forget that comic, it makes the quality of Batman #1 even more enjoyable.

Birds of Prey #1 is, like a lot of the new DC books, filled to the brim with our heroes exposition-ing their way through the entire issue.  The book serves as a nice introduction to Black Canary (who is obviously not married to Green Arrow anymore because he would look like a child next to her—but having said that, I shouldn’t give DC any ideas for their next spin of the wheel for the unlucky winner of “Who’s the next heroine we can turn into a busty, bra-breaking bimbo”?)

Unfortunately because the issue focuses so much on establishing a backstory for Black Canary, the other characters are left out in the cold and, for instance, there is no attempt to explain who this Starling character is.  I’m sure if I read the previous books or if I searched around the internet I could find out, but the point of these books is to introduce and then pull new readers into the stories.  There’s no mystery about Starling, she’s just never explained. 

Put it this way: I’ll happily hop on-line to enrich my reading of a Grant Morrison book because that’s part of the reading experience with his works.  But I don’t feel inclined to do so with Birds of Prey because I don’t think it will add anything to the story, it will just clarify something that the writer didn’t bother to explain.

And the final book of the UPC-guided week is Green Lantern Corps #1.  And you can tell this book belongs in the Geoff Johns corner of the universe because a couple of Green Lanterns are slaughtered in the first three pages of the book: one character has her head cut off one character while the other is sliced in half.

There was once a time when the death of two members of the Corps, even two obscure Lanterns on the edge of nowhere, would be a cause for alarm and a signal would be sent across the galaxy for everyone to hunt down the killer. 

But in this book the murders occur early in the story, and then the rest of the issue has Guy Gardner and John Stewart moaning about how tough it is for them to lead normal lives (a theme that was echoed by Hal Jordan in Green Lantern #1).  It then isn’t until the last four pages of the book that anyone seems to care that someone is wiping out members of the Green Lantern Corps and the characters finally spring into action to find out what’s happened.  All of this paced for the climatic, final page where the body count just mounts and mounts and mounts.

Under Geoff Johns’ guidance, the various Green Lantern books have become more and more morbid, as if there isn’t any drama in the story unless someone gets a hand sliced off or a Red Lantern is vomiting on someone or an entire planet is wiped out solely for the purpose of leaving the Green Lanterns a message.  The books are teetering on the edge of becoming parodies of themselves as each death, slaughter or maiming has to top the one before it.  And considering the fact that one of the books is populated with characters that puke red energy onto their victims, the slide towards utter and inescapable farce doesn’t seem that far away.

Since the various Green Lantern books are a cornerstone of the new DC (with four books being published), I’m not sure if self-parody is what they’re hoping to achieve, but I believe that they’re just a vomiting budgie away from being there.

—Kevin Pasquino

The New DC 52 - Week One Scorecard

Looking at the late-August release of Justice League #1 as a kind of preseason game, how did the new season of DC Comics pan out for its first real week?

Action Comics was heavily favored, written by Grant Morrison, with art by the solid Rags Morales. It was okay but very restrained, as if Morrison was trying to hold back the usual torrent of ideas to see what the other kids brought, see if this experiment was going to flop. Could be he is less interested in trying to match or top All Star Superman and is instead playing games with himself, trying to come up with a Superman who is pretty much the opposite of the All Star version and see if that can be compelling, too.

Animal Man was the best book of the book, so let us get that out of the way quickly. The Believer bit was clever, and a good way to get exposition out of the way quickly, leaving room for not just good characterization of Buddy Baker and his family, but a done-in-one menace (of sorts), AND a creepy, suprising twist. Add to that that he honors Morrisons star-making run on the book by somehow introducing Moore Swamp Thing elements, and color me impressed. Artist Travel Foreman makes a mistake or two with perspective, but that nightmare sequence is stunning.

Swamp Thing by Scott Snyder and Yannick Paquette is a solid, attractive book, though one of many where it isn’t clear what is still considered canon and what isn’t. Alec Holland used to be Swamp Thing, but isn’t anymore, but clearly he will be again, or somehow bonded with ST. And Superman knows him. Paquette has some nice Nowlan-style art here and while hes always been a bit stuff, dude does work hard and is always consistent. Some interesting, creepy stuff that oddly enough has some parallels with Animal Man, though unintentionally.

Those were really the three books I will definitely continue with. Ones on the fence or securely on the other side of it…?

O.M.A.C. by DiDio and Giffen is better than I thought, a fun remix of the Kirby semiclassic series, although I wanted D&G to bring more of their own ideas to it. Also, O.M.A.C. himself isn’t very cool. I would rather he had that crazy otherworldly swagger and command of all kinds of crazy weapons and gadgets, but here he is kind of a mindless thug.

Batgirl by Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf suffers from an ugly costume design, awkward dialogue and narration and a character reboot that fails to honor Barbara Gordons time as Oracle, which is to say, the past 20+ years. Honestly, it would have been better to completely ditch her paralysis entirely than make it a spinal injury that she was able to utterly overcome, physically, yet causes her to mentally freeze when someone points a gun at her. If she was mentally strong enough to get herself back in superhero shape, she should be mentally ready for anything. And as far as that costume, isn’t the appeal of Batgirl, and most young female superheroes, that they present a contradiction, a litheness and unpadded fragility and abandon that flies in the face of the danger they are in from bigger, stronger opponents? When you give them armored costumes and clunky boots, it takes the fun out of it. The one positive thing I would say about the book is that at least its somewhat lighthearted and is the only one to even attempt to give the lead character a friend, though she (the new roommate) is pretty unrealistic so far. Is there a lamer attempt at activism than painting Fight the Power on your own apartment wall? Another security deposit sacrificed to the Cause.

Men of War is one I am kind of torn on. I think Sgt. Rock meets Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a great tag, but not sure theres enough here to make anyone put down their controllers. Also, for a book that spends so much time on military jargon, one would think it would be a heavily researched war series, but all of a sudden it looks like these guys are up against a supervillain? I will give it another issue or two, but I don’t know quite what this book is supposed to be. Im all for war stories of impossible odds, but when that means regular guys against superpowers, maybe that crosses the line from brave patriot to fool?

Detective Comics by Tony Daniel is…well, I give Daniel credit in that I have studiously avoided his Batman run after the first couple of pretty poor issues. His art has improved since then, and he writes a coherent Batman. And yes, I was very surprised by the gross-out twist at the end, both as a reader and as a guy who wonders who oversees how DC handles their franchise characters. So, it may be a good deal of morbid curiosity, but I will be back for issue #2.

Batwing by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver is one of the better-looking books, but Winick fails to distinguish the character enough from Batman. Well, hes more like Jim Gordon as the only good cop on an African police force, who also puts on Bat-armor at night. The character isn’t interesting enough and the setting isn’t used well enough.

Green Arrow by J.T. Krul, Dan Jurgens and George Perez is a pleasant surprise. Krul doesn’t do anything very impressive here—Ollie Queen is kind of Tony Stark, kind of Bruce Wayne, the corporate superhero playboy—but at least the pace is quick and with the Jurgens/Perez art it looks a lot like the comics I read in the 80s and 90s that were probably crap in retrospect, but at least they were my kind of crap. I would prefer Krul get to work developing one interesting villain, though, instead of unleashing a torrent of codenames and powers who only want to bust stuff up and upload it to YouTube.

Static Shock by John Rozum and Scott McDaniel is too energetic and goodhearted to come down too hard on. I generally like teen heroes who are still recognizably teens in their behavior, and Rozum keeps Statics Peter Parkery science nerd thoughts going along rapidly, humorously and pretty endearingly. I didn’t love the book or felt like there was anything new, but its enjoyable.

Justice League International by Dan Jurgens and Aaron Lopresti is thoroughly average. I don’t have anything against Booster Gold, Fire, Ice or the other lightweights on this team, but either make them real interesting real quick, or treat them as punchlines the way Giffen and DeMatteis did back in the day. Jurgens isn’t sure which way he wants to go here so he never adopts a consistent tone, as if hes trying to please everyone. To be fair, with the heavy hitters on the real Justice League, writing these guys is like managing the Pittsburgh Pirates. You cant beat fun at the old ballpark, but theres a lot more talent on other teams, in other ballparks. Having Batman cameo smacked of desperation, and has anyone said anything about the plot? No, because its dull. Team gets together at the behest of two characters we know nothing about, and after farcical meet and greet, go off to find a missing UN research team. Question: aside from the real world value of making this a Justice League title, why would you name your UN-sanctioned team after the independent superhero team with which youre not associated and don’t control?

Stormwatch by Paul Cornell and Manuel Sepulveda is one of the bigger disappointments of the week, although to be fair, that’s partly because at one time I gave a shit about Stormwatch/The Authority and never cared much about Batgirl, Green Arrow, Static, etc. Having the Moon threaten Earth seems kinda like something Warren Ellis might have come up with, although he would have used some science in there somewhere, right? How is this giant Moon-fist going to break out of its orbit? Its like when you put your hand on a kids head and hold him far enough away from you that he cant punch you. Doesn’t that happen to you? Anyway, Cornell is tasked with restarting Apollo, Midnighter et al pretty much from scratch, except now with 100% more Martian Manhunter, and some new would be badass called Eminence of Blades or something. I think he lives through this but gets his ass kicked. I didn’t mind it overall but it was underwhelming, much of which could be laid at Sepulvedas feet, as he fails to make cool what Cornell gives him, while at the same time, Cornell doesn’t do a very good job of reintroducing these characters by having them do or say interesting things.

Hawk & Dove – I didn’t read it. And yeah, Rob Liefeld had something to do with that, but no more than Sterling Gates did. No thanks.

—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