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Trouble with Comics

tompeyer:

Those girls! 

—said the newspaper reporter.

tompeyer:

Those girls! 

—said the newspaper reporter.

What makes [Superman] interesting other than that he’s really, really strong? That question led me to want to redefine Clark in ways that made him more interesting and more flawed as a person. Not in a dark, mean, cynical way, because that’s way too easy. But as a true outsider whose heart is vulnerable. I wanted to emphasize the loneliness of a kid growing up knowing just how different he was from everyone else, who had to keep his distance for their protection and his own.

Quote of the Day | ‘What makes Superman unique?’ | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

This is basically every kid ever, if you think about it for longer than a half-second. This isn’t a Superman thing. It’s not profound. It’s just the human experience. It’s how we do. It’s not special.

(via iamdavidbrothers)

To quote Orson Welles, “the right reading is the one I’m giving (and not David Brothers’)”. The “feeling like an outsider” part is, yes, typical of all children and indeed, many adults. But that’s not all the quote is about. Superman is a “true” outsider, as opposed to just feeling like one. He’s an alien, and he has to keep his distance to protect others from his powers. The trick is to mix the relatable aspect (we all feel out-of-place) with the different (real alien with powers).

The New DC 52 Week Four, Part Two - Three Men and a Little Daemonite

Four titles here, and another four in a day or two to wrap up the first month of DC′s relaunches. It′s been a long time since I′ve reviewed this many books in this short a time, and I fully admit it′s probably unfair that books from IDW (a very good Star Trek series just started) and Dark Horse (the B.P.R.D. still going strong) and lots of interesting books from Fantagraphics, not to mention some important reissues. But hey, I felt like doing this, you know? Not because it′s important, just because I wanted to be thorough and fair when in all honesty I thought this would be much more of a disaster. So, without further adieu, and chosen at random…

Voodoo #1 by Ron Marz and Sami Basri is not a title that will last very long. Very minor WildStorm character, journeyman writer and relatively unknown artist. The alien-turned-stripper-turned-superhero didn’t even get Alan Moore′s best efforts way back when he wrote a miniseries for her. But that’s okay. As I′ve said before, the titles no one expects much from are the ones where the creative team usually has more freedom.

When Moore wrote Voodoo back in the ′90s, he perhaps not surprisingly focused on her New Orleans background and the magic native to the region. It wasn’t a bad idea, but Marz sticks more with the science fiction thriller angle, as we are introduced to Voodoo performing in front of a rapt crowd made up partially of two federal agents who have been tracking her. Before we find out much about this, Marz essentially atones for introducing Voodoo in a bikini, stripping, by showing the dressing room backstage, where we learn that these are just young women doing the best they can, trying to make money to take care of children with no father in the picture, or who are earning money for classes to better themselves. There′s no intrigue or competition here, just women trying to look out for each other. Like others, I′ve taken issue with the portrayal of some of the women characters in other new DC books, but Marz deserves a pass here, especially for the higher degree of difficulty of writing a stripper in a non-exploitative way. Basri also deserves credit—Voodoo and the other women are all very attractive but his line is clear and minimal, the naughty bits left to the imagination, and aside from a little cleavage there aren’t really any panels where body parts are the main point.

Instead, Voodoo, or Priscilla as she′s known, is not the most sympathetic character, killing one of the agents once he revealed what he knew about her, but its not unlike the violence Supergirl caused in her first issue; they′re both just trying to survive. The trick is to see how long readers can take it before she turns toward humanity′s side instead of her Daemonite people. 

Superman #1 by George Perez and Jesus Merino is a solid B, B+. Yes, for the most part I feel like it’s a book Perez already did back on his Action Comics run about 25 years ago, but I liked those books. Although Perez is only writing and providing layouts, those layouts let him control how much information he wants to get across here, and it′s more than most books. Sometimes the old, non-decompressed ways are best, as I felt like I got my money′s worth here. 

We see the Daily Planet building, with its famous gold globe, come crashing down, a victim of changing times. With print on its way to a final death rattle, the Planet has been purchased by Galaxy Communications, to be just a piece of its multimedia empire that also includes the local television station. Seems the new owner has something of a fearsome reputation, and even has a Murdoch-like wiretapping scandal in his recent past, though that is apparently more the fault of the previous owner. Lois Lane has been tapped to head the TV network, which in real life makes no sense, as she is a print journalist with no production, direction or management skills, but for comics drama I guess we can let it go. Or just call it the one big flaw of the issue.

The rest is taken up with reintroducing the cast and showing how they are all reacting to the change in the status quo. Perry White has to get used to a new boss, and Lois has to get used to being a boss immediately, going from the gala announcing the changes to covering Superman fighting a creature made of flame. She has to be resourceful to keep her helicopter crew out of harm′s way, and we find out her boss is more interested in results than safety, so she′s got her work cut out for her there.

The Superman fight ended with no answers, but we do see that this is a cockier, more threatening Superman, although still heroic and concerned with the safety of innocents. He has that in common with Lois, but neither he nor his Clark Kent alter ego have much of a connection with her aside from mutual respect. Clark cares for Lois, but she finds him too distant, and she′s in a relationship with some guy and it doesn’t appear to be much deeper than sex. Comics fans are often pretty puritanical, especially about long-running characters, so Im sure the implication that Lois is getting it on unashamedly in her apartment is going to turn some people off, but I thought it was a good way for Perez to raise the emotional stakes and nudge the book into, I dunno, the 80s? Merino is following Perez′s blueprint here, but clearly his style is a bit different and it looks terrific. Aside from some unsuccessful bits here and there, such as the narrative captions describing the fight that don’t read anything like the newspaper article they are supposed to emulate, this is a solid book with old school craft. 

Green Lantern New Guardians #1 by Tony Bedard and Tyler Kirkham is an amiably ho-hum book, which I guess is going to happen when you mandate four Green Lantern books a month. Kyle Rayner now has a little more potential to be cool, since he′s not the #1 GL anymore. Bedard introduces him as a nice, creative guy (although the majority of waitresses would not take kindly to a patron leaving a sketch of them in lieu of a tip), but there isn’t time for much more, as we have to get his GL induction out of the way in rapid, Silver Age style. Before you know it, he′s saving folks and meeting his not-so-adoring public, and then something weird happens where a bunch of different Lanterns have their rings taken away and all the rings go to Kyle. I was confused, because taking the ring away seemed clearly to cause some of these Lanterns to die, either because they were in the middle of fighting or they were in space and using the ring to provide breathable air, but at the end, there′s a bunch of different-colored Lanterns all heading to beat up Kyle. Oh, and in keeping with the Johns model, there is a disemboweling where it would have been just as well to cut away to the next scene. I′m not very interested in the mystery, there are plenty of kinda likable heroes out there, and Kirkham′s Jim Lee-influenced art isn’t enough of a draw. I wouldn’t call this a terrible book, but it’s an easy one to drop.

The Savage Hawkman #1 by Tony S. Daniel and Philip Tan is probably going to bother a lot of Hawkman fans, as Carter Hall is now a rather reckless loser of a cryptologist who finds that when he tries to give up on Hawkman completely, the Nth metal bonds with him, so hes sort of like Venom, with his costume and weapons erupting from his body. This comes in handy on his first day back on the job, when a sunken artifact releases a deadly alien energy vampire thing. 

Philip Tan goes for a bit more of a painterly look here, possibly trying to approach an old pulp novel cover, but for now he can add this to the list of styles he hasn’t mastered. I liked it better than what he did on Batman & Robin, but that’s not saying much. Nice creature, though, although Daniel gives him a rather unalienlike name, Morticius, which seems more like the name of a cackling ghoul meant to host one of DC′s old horror books. 

It′s kind of funny when were introduced to Carter Hall talking about getting rid of Hawkman, and his narrative caption has a hawk symbol in it, not that there was much doubt he was going to be Hawkman again. That part isn’t Daniel′s fault, but he does louse that scene up with a tendency to go over-the-top. I mean, you can′t just pour gasoline on the Hawkman garb and light a match? No, instead it’s a fifth of bourbon, ignited with a gunshot, which seems like a waste of booze and ammo. I′m not sure how to take the lack of any kind of sexual tension between Carter and his boss′ pretty daughter. You gave the fat old guy a hot daughter for a reason, Daniel—do something with her more than a bland, ″Hi Carter″. I guess this might turn into something as far as the buttkicking aspects, but so far I′m not impressed. 

—Christopher Allen

The New DC 51 - Action to Animal

So with the new 52 DC reboot/restart/re-imagining and with the joyful enthusiasm of “Hey it worked for Casino Royale and Batman Begins so it can work for us!!”,  the big question became this…

What to buy, what to buy, what to buy?  52 re-launches with a bunch of new creators.  What to buy?

Fortunately my local comic shop (the legendary and fabulous The Beguiling) was kind enough, like many shops, to lure people like me who were sitting on the fence into making a complete commitment: for one low price I would be able to purchase all 52 issues and save myself the hassle of making a decision.

So I figured “What the heck, why not?”  After all, enough of the books interested me that I may as well just kill that annoying curious cat and get them all.

And, yes, that means when faced with making a decision or making a commitment, I went for the non-decision commitment.  Oh if only ice cream and women were that uncomplicated.

My critical measuring stick for the 52 books is therefore not equally balanced: there are those books I would have bought, the ones I was somewhat curious about, and the ones I would not have touched even if someone had offered me free chocolate as an almost -irresistible incentive.

To be completely transparent, of this week’s 13 new releases I would have bought 3 of them, flipped through 4 of them, and the rest would not have earned a glance even if Rosario Dawson was giving complimentary foot massages with each purchase:

Would have bought: Action Comics, Swamp Thing and Animal Man.

Would have flipped through:  Detective Comics, OMAC, Stormwatch and Static Shock.

Not even with chocolate or Rosario Dawson: Batgirl, Batwing, Man of War, JLI, Green Arrow and Hawk & Dove.

Okay, but now that I have committed to all of them, how to sample them?  Do I read my anticipated favorites first, or inverse it and do the more mature and responsible equivalent of eating all my vegetables before I get dessert? (And as I think about vegetables, it’s ironic to note that the is the cover of Swamp Thing (looking very Bissette & Totleben) is right in front of me.)

Well, nothing says random reading quite like ‘alphabetical order’ and so that was how I decided to approach Week One.  Which means we start with…

Action Comics #1.  Right from the first page and its bottom panel it is very apparent that this is a different kind of Superman.

“I’m your worst nightmare” is a most un-Superman-like statement.  Batman, Freddy Krueger or Kim Kardashian might say something like that, but for the Man of Steel to utter those words… well, it certainly indicates that this is a very different take on the hero.

Writer Grant Morrison created the great and now classic All-Star Superman with Frank Quitely, but anyone expecting that kind of homage to The Silver Age is in for a rude surprise.  This Superman is younger, angrier and a lot less certain of his place in the world.  Reading like a “Year One” take on the character, the traditional majesty and nobility that were synonymous with Superman have been pushed aside for a more working class, “willing to get his hands dirty” kind of hero.  And while that’s all well and good, I don’t know how far Morrison and other creators can stray from those classic, defining characteristics and still have him remain “Superman”.

Or to put it another way:  I enjoyed the Superman in Grant Morrison’s Superman Beyond from Final Crisis much more than I did this Superman.  I would rather have Superman as a leader and a beacon of nobility than yet another angry superhero.

A strange aspect of the story is revealed part way through the issue when one of the characters says that this new “Super-man” has been around for six months and yet he still remains a figure of mysterious menace (very much like the early appearances of Batman in Gotham City).  But I couldn’t help but think that six months in today’s world is the equivalent of several lifetimes in the days of old media  scrutiny, so I’m amazed that hero hasn’t been You Tube’d, Facebook’d and Google’d to the point that all the mystique is gone.

It’s my understanding that this story takes place several years before the rest of the books in the new DCU (with Justice League being another exception) and maybe that’s why it’s been six months since he first appeared, but it makes me wonder how necessary it was to introduce Superman outside of the current timeline of the other books.  It’s often been expressed that Superman should be the first hero, but if it’s this Superman who is the first hero, it’s difficult to imagine him inspiring a lot of other heroes to follow in his footsteps.

The book’s major downfall is the fact that there aren’t any brilliant ideas or terrific new insights into any of the characters.  Instead, there’s just a lot of anger, red-glowing eyes and a fairly goofy-looking Jimmy Olsen.  And after Geoff Johns’ recent Secret Origins and Straczyski’s Superman Earth One, the launch of this book had to be something spectacular.  And it’s not. Action Comics #1  reads like an early issue of Ultimate Spider-Man albeit better-paced and with less of a focus on the hero’s  origin.

The bottom line is that I expected Morrison to deliver something more mind-blowing than merely a slightly better Bendis.  Having said that, I’ll stick around in the hope that Morrison brings his A-game for the upcoming issues.  But if I didn’t have such faith in Morrison, I’m not sure if I’d buy #2.

Animal Man #1.  Oh cruel, cruel alphabet: making me move from a slightly disappointing Grant Morrison debut to a book that once had him at his very, very best.

Writer Jeff Lemire certainly has huge shoes to fill with this comic because although Morrison’s take on Animal Man is more than 20 years old, it was his 26 issue run on the series that rescued the minor DC hero from complete obscurity, it remains the definitive take on the character and it also launched Morrison’s own career in North America.  So not only does Lemire have to do Animal Man and his family justice, he gets do so as he works in the shadow of Morrison’s classic, creative genius.

Lemire dances the fine line (as do all of the #1’s creators) of introducing the character as if he were completely new but at the same time not completely ignoring the past and risk alienating all of the nostalgic fans of the original series.  And he manages the creative dance quite well, establishing (and to some extent perhaps even over-establishing) the fact that Buddy Baker and his family are the main focus of the story and all of the superhero shenanagins are incidental.  

The first part of the book reads like something from Pixar’s The Incredibles (although Morrison’s Animal Man predates the movie) with Buddy and his wife debating the challenges and financial insecurities of being a superhero, their daughter screaming for their attention and their son being mildly annoying.

But then Buddy has to do his Animal Man duty and spring into action. 

And that is when the weirdness begins to intrude on their lives.  While things may have been quite domestic and common at the beginning, it all starts to unravel.   And when things go bad, it is terrifying and grotesque and quite brilliant to behold.

I’m not overly familiar with Travel Foreman’s artwork but it is knockout friggin’ gorgeous.  There is a black & white sequence at the end of the issue that is glorious.  Unfortunately there is also a full page splash early in the story of Buddy in flight that looked like it was Warren Worthington III (aka Angel) from the X-Men circa 1980s John Byrne that simply did not belong in the rest of this beautiful book.  While I know Animal Man’s costume is supposed to look less than inspiring because of his low status on the superhero totem pole, I’m hoping the costume design is merely Jim Lee’s bad idea and will get pushed aside very quickly.

Lemire and Foreman do not disappoint with this issue.  Well-written and beautifully illustrated, I hope they get a chance to work together for a long time.  Because there might be greatness to come.

—Kevin Pasquino 


Smallville Finale

I only started watching the show this season, so I realize I’m not going to get the full impact here. Still, aside from not really having a feel for Lex Luthor, I don’t think I missed too much or was in any way lost. I’ve enjoyed the series, though I think the season didn’t completely fire on all cylinders because they only advanced the Darkseid storyline every now and then. As someone familiar with all the comics characters, I was surprised at the choice to make Oliver Queen so important and so close to Clark, and Justin Hartley was great throughout, adding humor, flirtation and occasional self-righteousness that Tom Welling’s Clark could not, due to how he has been written. Erika Durance as well has been an excellent Lois. A bit soft for a Lois this season, but I understand that as she and Clark have already passed those early relationship hurdles during seasons I wasn’t watching. I suppose the reason I never watched this series from the start is that I never cared all that much about Smallville itself, and Ma and Pa Kent were always best in small doses in the comics. 

This episode had a lot to wrap up, and I have to say only the becoming-Superman part really was done adequately, not even great. The romantics in us were denied a real wedding for Clark and Lois. Lex’s return and Tess’ redemption were crammed in. I’m sure there have been some earlier fans of the show, or Superman fans in general, who were put off by Lex being killed a while back, as he’s Superman’s main nemesis and the Fourth World characters have rarely been used that well in the main DC Universe in the comics. I liked the takes on the minions this season, particularly Granny Goodness, but Oliver’s overcoming them and “the darkness” was too easy. The framing sequence made it clear from the start that everything was going to work out fine.

Using Lionel Luthor as the embodiment of Darkseid felt to me like a budget-driven decision, as it apparently wouldn’t have looked believable to have Superman fight the obviously CGI Darkseid of whom we’ve seen glimpses. It was really unsatisfying that all Superman had to do to stop the invasion was push Apokolips away. If that’s not what happened, it was unclear what actually did. A little fighting with some Apokoliptian soldiers would have been nice, along with something scientific that could have provided Emil Hamilton with a scene or two, along with glimpses of some of the other heroes fighting the invasion. I realize the writers and producers of the show are Superman fans, and probably floated a few of these ideas that then had to be compromised due to the limited budget, which looked to be not much more than a regular-length episode, especially since some of this one was padded (often suitably, sometimes just padded) with montages of bits of past episodes, plus it seemed to me that the establishing shots, such as the Fortress of Solitude, lingered longer than usual.

I liked the Pa Kent and Jor-El stuff just fine, though Ma Kent as a politician or whatever she is seemed too far from the original premise, which probably has something to do with her lack of impact on the season. Once you’re a Congresswoman, no one trusts your homespun wisdom. I do understand the dramatic reasons for giving first Lois cold feet, and then Clark, but it did not only eat up some valuable episode time but sort of diminish how destined they are to be together. Overall, not a bad finish, and the cast all did good jobs, but I’m betting almost everyone associated with the show has other episodes they think came out better.

—Christopher Allen

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

Daily Breakdowns 097 - Moist Hinge

Been busy and/or out of it, so here’s me catching up on the past couple weeks of comics.

Superman #701

Writer - J. Michael Straczynski. Artist - Eddy Barrows. Publisher - DC Comics

I’m a little later to the table reviewing this, but that’s okay because in part I’m commenting on other reviews. OK, so JMS didn’t do his homework about South Philly. I think that’s significant but very secondary to whether it was a good story or not. And it’s not a bad effort, the writing. I think some folks have gotten a little nitpicky regarding the little incidents that Superman has experienced with the townsfolk. No, he needn’t fly the old guy to the hospital because it wasn’t an emergency. It was enough that he gave him a free x-ray. And no, he didn’t need to fix the guy’s car after diagnosing the problem with the fuel line. What one should take away from this issue is that JMS wasn’t afraid to dispense with several possible stories in order to get right to the most important one, which is the potential suicide story that dominates the second half of the book. This was pretty well done, with Superman listening and promising not to interfere or prevent the woman from jumping if that was what she ultimately chose to do. I liked that. That said, it wasn’t any better written than Law & Order, and that’s free and this comic is four dollars and none of the characters are any more attractive than Sam Watterston or that guy who played Jesus or whoever stars in Law & Order these days. Barrows draws a credible Superman and that’s unfortunately leagues better than the past year’s worth of artists on Superman books. I think JMS, his ego demanding a big splash, has hit on one of those unwinnable challenges which is to make Superman relatable to real people and their current problems. That he didn’t fail miserably is an accomplishment if not exactly great comics.

Strange Science Fantasy #1

Writer/Artist - Scott Morse. Publisher - IDW Publishing.

If you’re going to call to mind EC Comics in your title and cover art, you would do well to present an anthology of several different science fiction/fantasy short stories. Failing that, one good sci-fi story would do. This doesn’t even achieve that, with a Kirbyesque build-up towards some mythical new world of gearheads lead by a guy in an illuminated diving helmet called The Headlight that doesn’t get anywhere, its overblown and frequently syntax-hostile narration not getting anywhere with the three-panel-per-page format. Despite Scott Morse not actually making any good comics in the near-decade I’ve been reviewing (Soulwind was completed prior to my start), I still kind of hold out hope for him to rebound. This is just one more impediment.

Amazing Spider-Man #638

Writer/Artist - Joe Quesada. Artist - Paolo Rivera. Publisher - Marvel Comics

I wasn’t around for JMS’ controversial “One More Day” storyline, which I think was a story put in motion by Quesada to nullify Peter and Mary-Jane Parker’s marriage and make Pete a swinging bachelor again. Putting Aunt May’s life at stake and making Mephisto the bad guy doesn’t sound like something I’d like, plus I think it’s a cop-out. There had to be good stories about the married couple beyond the usual MJ-in-jeopardy ones. 

That said, I’ve really been enjoying AMS the past year with the high quality rotating line-up of creators. Filling in the holes of a story I never read isn’t something I really wanted, and to be honest, Quesada isn’t as good a writer as Mark Waid, Zeb Wells, Fred Van Lente, Joe Kelly or Dan Slott, nor is his art in line with what’s been on the book recently. But okay, we’ve got this “One Moment In Time” thing to get through, and we’ll get through it.

Quesada makes a couple odd choices here that I don’t think really work. I’d have much preferred all-new material rather than the attempt to weave big chunks of ASM Annual #21 back from 1987 in here with all its mullety, Shooter-plotted, black-suited, Colletta-inked glory. It’s ironic, really—Shooter butted in to direct the big story of Peter’s wedding to MJ, and now Quesada is taking over a smoothly-running ASM for four issues to flesh out a story that most fans didn’t like. You got what you wanted, and based on the subsequent stories, maybe you were right. So then why go back to an era you thought fans didn’t like?

In addition to the odd meld of ’80s art with Rivera’s new stuff, Quesada himself draws a handful of pages—the current stuff, with Mary Jane coming over to finally have a heart-to-heart with Peter about what happened with their wedding. Quesada has a decent ear for dialogue, I’ll give him that, and I like his Mary Jane, even if she doesn’t have the looks to cut it as a supermodel. She’s very girl-next-door, which not only doesn’t fit with the supermodel thing but also with scenes where Harry Osborn describes her as the wildest party girl he knows. I did like his Peter, who has a fat face, sunken eyes and no muscle tone, just like me. 

Nothing actually happens in this issue.

The Sixth Gun #1 & 2

Writer - Cullen Bunn. Artist - Brian Hurtt. Publisher - Oni Press

Now this is more like it. I must admit, I think Oni has held onto relationships with too many underwhelming creators from their early days. But I did always think Brian Hurtt was talented, and he’s lucky to have hooked up with fresh writer Cullen Bunn, who not only clearly has a story to tell but looks like he really wants to tell as much of it as he can each issue, quite counter to the current decompression model.

The story is set in what looks like late 19th Century, and there are already three compelling villains, ghosts, treasure, a fetching female lead, and a cursed gun. All familiar elements but they’re blended zestily and with real storytelling authority by Bunn. 

—Christopher Allen

Daily Breakdowns 093 - Old, Red And In The Way

Hulk #23

Writer - Jeph Loeb

Artists - Ed McGuinness, Sal Buscema, Ian Churchill, Mike Deodato, Tim Sale, John Romita, Jr., Herb Trimpe, Dale Keown, Leinil Francis Yu. 

Publisher - Marvel Comics

It’s bad critical practice to think about how someone else might think about a book, I guess. I should just worry about my own take on it. Still, I wonder how this issue would go over to, say, a younger Hulk reader who doesn’t realize it features art from a number of past Hulk artists, some of whom have been part of important runs. Without that background, this probably looks like kind of a mess, though individually I enjoyed most of their efforts. Heck, in this context I just realized that Ian Churchill draws an interesting, very human Thunderbolt Ross, and I have never been a Churchill fan. 

So, yes, the issue maybe works a little better for me because I’m happy that Sal Buscema and Herb Trimpe got some 2010 Marvel money. I couldn’t really figure out what Trimpe did, but Buscema’s work is nice. Still, I think it ultimately failed because it was an oversized issue that was nothing but exposition and flashbacks leading up to something that I didn’t find all that earth-shaking when it was first revealed: Red Hulk is really General Ross, and now Loeb is going to fill in the missing details on why he would ever team up with villains The Leader and M.O.D.O.K. and subject himself to the Cathexis Ray to become a creature so like his bitterest enemy. 

And, you know, it’s not that hard to understand. Loeb, somewhat charmingly, really seems fond of Ross, giving him lengthy eulogies in his “funeral” issue when readers thought Red Hulk had murdered him (a Life Model Decoy, it turns out. Yawn.), and now giving him a youth as an air show biplane pilot, paralyzed in a crash and teaching himself how to walk again. Or maybe Peter David came up with this stuff, I don’t know. But bottom line: Ross has decades of comics showing that he’s a kook who will stop at nothing to capture/kill The Hulk, including creating monsters or arming himself in order to take him on. He has no ethics and no restraint; turning himself into Red Hulk isn’t a surprise, and indeed the animosity Red Hulk had for Bruce Banner made Ross the most likely suspect. My only complaint is that I have to tell my kid that cool action figure he has is really an old man with a gray moustache.

So the issue is not just a collection of old flashbacks with Ross narration to try to let us in on his obsession, it also appears to be not so much a jam issue but the equivalent of a TV clip show. It looks like in at least some of the cases, the art may be from older comics with the narrative captions added. The Tim Sale art seems to be taken right from Hulk: Gray. Other than the admission that Ross was envious of The Hulk’s power, there’s not much here that really ennobles the man or even ties all his various acts together into a cohesive, dramatic whole. In fact, the time he seemed to die in the arms of daughter Betty looks like it was the right exit for him, so having him go on and touch on several more years of continuity is just an unfortunate reminder of how corporate comics work.

Superman #700

Writers - James Robinson, J. Michael Straczynski, Dan Jurgens

Artists - Bernard Chang, Eddy Barrows, Dan Jurgens

Publisher - DC Comics

It’s my fault.

I have a soft spot for anniversary issues and despite decades of disappointment, more often than not, I expect that the standards will be higher than for a “regular” issue. The recent Batman #700, with Grant Morrison writing several connected stories for various artists, worked pretty well. It wasn’t his best work but fairly successful, with good art, and it was satisfying by itself even if it tied into an ongoing storyline involving Bruce Wayne’s resurrection.

So that’s kind of what I was hoping for here. I guess I’m happy that the reunion scene I was expecting at the end of War of the Supermen ends up here. This issue marks the end of James Robinson’s run as (co)writer of Superman-related books, and it makes sense that he gets to return things to status quo with lots of conversation between Clark and Lois about the various events that have happened while they were separated. Although Lois calling Clark, “Baby,” multiple times was a little disconcerting, I liked the romance of it, even if some space was wasted with a pointless sequence with The Parasite chasing Lois before Superman shows up and gives him one of his fastest defeats. Bernard Chang’s work is limp and just not good enough for this anniversary issue, but I suppose it’s appropriate they let him finish his run as well. The limpness extends to the overall story, though, as Robinson is content with just the conversation and expressions of love and doesn’t pull it into any sort of meaningful structure.

Curiously, the issue is padded not with pinups or anything like that, but rather an inconsequential story by Dan Jurgens that could have come from a drawer locked since 1990. It’s a little thing about the Dick Grayson Robin defying instructions to stay home and do homework, instead going to stop an arms deal before Superman steps in to save him and then try to cover up his involvement so Dick doesn’t get in trouble. It’s cute, well-drawn and the most complete, entertaining story here. It’s just not much of a Superman story, and doesn’t have much reason to be here aside from the fact it eats up pages and Jurgens did some nice Superman stories 20 years ago.

JMS and Eddy Barrows start their run on the book here with a prequel story to the “Grounded” story Mark Waid quipped about last week. Although that was a great line, I don’t think having Superman travel across the country to reconnect with the people whom he’s sworn to protect is a bad premise at all. I think it’s in taking it to that “Grounded” extreme of having him not use his powers that might take JMS into ludicrous territory. Superman has incredible powers. He needs them to protect these people. Pretending he doesn’t have them is just denying who he is, and it’s not going to help the people. Not much happens in this story aside from a nice scene where a woman blames Superman’s absence for her husband dying of a brain tumor. If Superman was there he could have helped, and she wouldn’t be a widow. Obviously Superman can’t be everywhere, but he’s the only one aside from The Flash who can come close, and naturally being the good soul he is, he’s stung by the attack. It’ll be interesting to see how Straczynski handles the hazards of the story.

—Christopher Allen

Daily Breakdowns 092 - Where’s My Spider-Man Fishing Pole?

…I would have liked one as a kid. Anyway, after a couple weeks off on other projects like my actual job that pays my mortgage, I’ve got a little time to catch up on some floppies.

Predators #1 (of 4)

Writers - Marc Andreyko, David Lapham

Artists - Guilherme Balbi, Gabriel Guzman

Publisher - Dark Horse Comics

I wasn’t really even aware they were rebooting the Predator film franchise until I saw this comic, which sports a terrific Paul Lee cover with great likenesses of Adrien Brody and Lawrence Fishburne. Kind of funny that two talented guys who could use a hit or at least need to keep working are kind of slumming by doing this sci-fi action movie, while two talented comics writers like Andreyko and Lapham are sort of doing the same thing with this miniseries, which, like most licensed comics movie tie-ins has stories that serve as a prequel or flesh out the film. It’s not bad how they do it here, with Andreyko handling the longer main story, which spends time on a solider character whom we probably won’t see much of if any in the movie, as he blacks out during a parachute dive and then comes to during his descent into the jungle, where he joins his squad being rapidly picked off by an unseen Predator or more, and then the badass Fishburne character shows up. The backup has Lapham fleshing out the character of the amoral, mercenary Brody character. The art by Balbi on the main story was just okay—if you squint at some panels you may get a bit of a Guy Davis feel—but Guzman is much more polished on the backup. Although I doubt we’ll get top drawer Andreyko or Lapham here, I enjoyed it and probably look forward to the next issue a little more than the movie itself.

War of the Supermen #1-4

Writers - Sterling Gates, James Robinson

Artists - Jamal Igle, Eddy Barrows, Cafu, Eduardo Pansica, Various

Publisher - DC Comics

I only caught up to some of the New Krypton stories in the past month, and missed the setup for it. Still, aside from an interminable storyline involving Adam Strange that would have taken 10 pages in the ’50s, it was fairly entertaining. Didn’t really do a great job of world-building, and the class conflict stuff was dumbed down and abandoned to make way for this war story, but, well, what was I really expecting? I didn’t dislike it.

This miniseries? Much dislike. This one is a real embarrassment. I wish I knew what happened to James Robinson, and is Sterling Gates a real person and why is he getting so much work? The basic story is crazed xenophobe (and Lois’ dad), General Lane, destroys New Krypton, leaving thousands of pissed-off Kryptonians, led by equally crazed and xenophobic (though he has a point) General Zod coming to wage war on the people of Earth, leaving Superman and Supergirl in the middle. 

Aside from, I think, Igle, who draws an okay Superman and can handle a decent fight scene, the artwork is almost always boring at best, hideous at worst, with Superman at his most anemic, expressionless and awkward, and the Kryptonian army having as much majesty and menace as UPS delivery people—just substitute gray for brown. 

What’s worse is that the writers just seem to be hitting their beats, and haphazardly at that, with no wit and often a seeming disregard for dramatic promise. There’s a scene where an anguished Supergirl is hiding in floating planetary debris when Superman comes to find her. It’s mostly silent, and so I guess a good deal of the blame for its failure is the bad drawing, but some dialogue between the two would have been nice. And what about the missed opportunities when Superman comes back? There’s no Lois reunion scene. No conversation about how she’s feeling since her dad has become this despicable war criminal and her sister is insane. Instead there’s bad scenes like Lois and Jimmy drawn almost like federal agents, before it’s revealed that they’re just dumping exposition on Superboy, Steel and other supporting characters who don’t really serve much purpose here. It’s pretty much a complete botch. 

Hawkeye & Mockingbird #1

Writer - Jim McCann

Artist - David Lopez & Alvaro Lopez

I was surprised to look closer and realize this is supposed to be an ongoing series. I’m not sure there’s an audience, but whatever. The ups for this issue is that both McCann and the Lopez team convey a sense of fun right from the start. These two like fighting crime and are very comfortable with their gimmicks and corny costumes. I also like that the couple are part of a secret government group where they can be the stars, unlike the Avengers. And I like that Hawkeye’s looking out for Mockingbird and that there’s a secret between them that is causing problems. 

My complaints are minor. I think after Ms. Marvel, Black Widow, Agent 13/Sharon Carter, Spider-Woman and I’m probably forgetting one or two, one more screwed up hot former S.H.I.E.L.D. with skeletons in her closet is pretty played out. As is one more covert government special ops outfit—wouldn’t Norman Osborn have shut these things down? And also, not too down deep, I wonder if Hawkeye isn’t more interesting without her. He’s better mooning over someone else’s girl. Not bad, though. You could do a lot worse.

—Christopher Allen