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Trouble with Comics

The New DC 51 - Frankie, Death and Red & Green

The alphabetical mystery tour continues with the writers of the new DCU acting as the guides for which book comes next on the reading list.

Deathstroke #1 has the return of the DC’s version of The Punisher.  He’s still a grey-haired one-eyed mercenary who has enhanced strength, quick reflexes and a very bad attitude.

It’s a strange thing:  after the tremendous darkness of Suicide Squad (which was all about establishing characters and nothing about plot) and the disappointment of both Grifter and Resurrection Man (which had a lot of plot but did nothing to make the main character captivating), I found Deathstroke somewhat entertaining.

It’s nasty and bloody and hardass, but it is consistent in presenting the character, establishing his motives and setting him down a path of death, destruction and lots of killing.

Writer Kyle Higgins and artists Joe Bennett and Art Thibert do a good job of making the book interesting as well as making it violent as hell.  I could see some people really enjoying this comic.  Which isn’t to say I’m going to put it on my ‘buy’ list because it’s just not my cup of tea.  But if someone said they enjoyed the book enough to buy the next issue, I wouldn’t try to convince them that they’re wrong. 

Much like Dan Didio saying he wanted to write OMAC, it’s got to be good to be the Chief Creative Officer at DC because it means that while every other book gets its creative teams shuffled for the re-boot, the CCO can say, “Um, no.  That rule doesn’t apply to me.”  Rank has its privileges, it’s good to be the king, and the rules don’t apply to Geoff Johns.

The rules also don’t apply to Green Lantern #1.  While every other book in the line (with the possible exception of Batwoman) has had to adjust to the new DCU, Green Lantern just picks up where it left off before the reboot.

Oh there was that major plot change at the end of the “War of the Green Lanterns” that had Hal Jordan kicked out of the corps and Sinestro once again becoming a Green Lantern, but everything else is a direct continuation of the series: Johns is still writing, Doug Mahnke is delivering terrific art and, unfortunately, the book continues on its downward spiral as it gets more and more tired.

Green Lantern worked best when there was just one or, at most, two books in its Guardian-mentored corner of the DC Universe.  But in the new DCU there will now be four books dealing with various Guardians and Lanterns.

And with all of the intergalactic adventuring occurring in the other comics, this book suffers because it is earthbound and so very Hal Jordan-centered.  Hal belongs in outer space as the leader of the corps, and instead he is being literally grounded.  Over the years the character of Sinestro has become semi-sympathetic, house-tamed and neutered.  He’s no longer a villain. He just wants what’s best for the Corps and he’ll kill a bunch of people to prove his point.  Or he’ll get mad.  And then he’ll threaten people.  And then not do anything. All of it depends on Geoff Johns’ mood because there’s no consistency to the character anymore.

Geoff Johns only seems happy when a character is getting an arm ripped off or there’s a big sprawling intergalactic crossover event being planned.  If there’s not a major catastrophe that will demand that all of the heroes in the universe gather together to battle the Black Sinestro Lantern Corps, then Johns’ heart doesn’t seem to be in the book because his focus is always on The Next Big Thing. So this issue feels like it’s just treading water until something amazing occurs six months from now.

Skipping one letter in the alphabetical author adventure in order to continue with the Lanterns, Peter Milligan is a writer who has produced some amazing work over the years.  When he’s good, he’s great: Shade the Changing Man, X-Statix, Enigma, the current Hellblazer and his brilliant six issue follow-up to Grant Morrison’s work on Animal Man are all works to treasure.  But when he’s off his game we get Infinity Inc. and Elektra.  His crazy Vertigo-esque, off-in-its-own-universe work can be amazing; his superhero stuff is less so.

Therefore it’s not too surprising that Red Lanterns #1 is such a mess.  To be honest, the concept itself doomed the book to failure.  Because, ummm let’s see, it stars characters that puke blood, they are so filled with rage that they can barely speak, and did I mention they puke blood?  The Red Lanterns concept has got to be among the very worst ideas original creator Geoff Johns has ever came up with. I can only imagine what it must have sounded like…

“Hey guys, I know that the Green Lanterns have rings and the Yellow Lanterns have rings and Star Sapphire has a ring or a jewel or something, but what if the Red Lanterns don’t have rings, but they have something like vomit and it’s red and it’s got nothing to do with a lantern but they throw up like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly and they’re mad all the time? Doesn’t that sound great?”

It’s not Peter Milligan’s fault the book is a mess.  The concept was a disaster to begin with. And yet someone at DC decided to give those characters their own book.  And Xombi isn’t being published anymore. It’s kind of depressing if you think about it.

But then along comes  Jeff Lemire to make things feel better.  Writer/artist of Vertigo’s Sweet Tooth, writer of the new DCU Animal Man and the writer who is taking Mary Shelley’s monster into superhero magnificence.

Using Grant Morrison’s mini-series from Seven Soldiers as its springboard, Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 is a throwback to the monster books of the ‘70s when there were Werewolves by night, Vampires by night and Man, Muck and Swamp Things every time of the day.  The artwork by Alberto Ponticelli looks like a terrific amalgamation of Lemire’s own artistic style with some Wrightson, Mahnke, Kirby and Walter Simonson as well.  (And just to justify the last comparison, I can’t look at a mummy in a comic book and help but compare it to Simonson’s work.  No one can draw a mummy like Simonson, but Ponticelli comes damn close.)  Best known in North American for his work on the Vertigo book Unknown Soldier, Ponticelli’s work manages to be both monstrous and superheroic.  He is the perfect artist for a book like this.

(We now interrupt this review for a public service request:  HEY DC!  How about publishing some huge, gorgeous books that collect all of the work Walter Simonson did for your company!! From Manhunter to Doctor Fate to Orion and everything in between.  The Mighty Thor – The Artist’s Edition from IDW is a thing of majestic beauty.  So how about adding to the love and publishing a couple of omnibus editions of Simonson’s artwork.  Please?? à and now back to our regularly scheduled Frankenstein…)

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is filled with enough ideas for six month’s worth of material in an average comic book.  Yes, much of it builds on Grant Morrison’s ideas and the old Creature Commandos concept, but here’s just a sampling of the crazy goodness in this comic –  a microscopic headquarters, a group leader named Father Time who looks like a six year old girl, a monster named Frankenstein who is concerned about the bride who was literally made for him but never truly loved him, a town that will be nuked into oblivion unless our ‘hero’ can destroy the monsters who have taken control and a former superhero scientist who for now at least is only there as an advisor.  All of those ideas and the terrific art makes for a terrific first issue and one of the best in the entire re-launch.

—Kevin Pasquino

The New DC 52 Week Two, Part One

So the first week of DC′s relaunch went pretty well, as Action Comics, Animal Man and Swamp Thing became three series I wasn’t reading that I now want to follow, and a couple more I′m on the fence about. Counting the prior week′s Justice League, which I will stick with a little longer, that isn’t bad at all.

So here we are in Week Two, and here are my first impressions of what I read on the first night, in the order I read them.

Deathstroke #1 by Kyle Higgins and Joe Bennett wasn’t anything I had any real expectations about. Aside from his appearances on the Teen Titans cartoon several years ago, the character of Slade Wilson only registered for me during a brief period in the 80s when I followed the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans. But I liked this just fine. Higgins understands that when you have a character who in the minds of most is a villain—a paid killer—you have to give the people some sympathetic quality. The Punisher has the fact he does what he does because his family was gunned down. With Deathstroke, it′s…well, it′s that he′s battling ageism. OK, that’s not a great hook, but I quite liked the old dog having to prove he still has what it takes against a new breed of snotty, classless, high-tech young assassins. Obviously, the series cannot hang on this for much longer, but it made for a good debut, and Bennett′s precise, crisp style matched up well with the material. I liked this one. And you know, as much as the relaunches have taken some heat for some old hat talent, you can put Higgins on the list of fresh names that could help this thing actually work.

Grifter #1 by Nathan Edmundson and Cafu is a book that, quite frankly, I read next because I wanted it to fail in comparison to Deathstroke, the other tough-solo-guy book this week. Who said critics were objective? And…mission accomplished, though it isn’t so bad. We meet Cole Cash in an agitated state on a commercial flight, able to hear the disturbing thoughts of aliens masquerading as fellow passengers and crew. I read enough WildC.A.T.S. to know these must be Daemonites, though I don’t remember if this was always one of his abilities. We get a little flashback action to find that Cole is a, well, yes, he′s a grifter, though it isn’t clear what the deal was, and the vagueness of it suggests writer Edmundson isn’t interested in setting up long cons in the book. Rather, it′s going to be action-packed semi-superhero stuff, and that’s okay, too. I wish we had gotten a little more story here, but even more, I think Cafu is not the right choice as artist, because he draws faces too smooth. I understand from the script that Cole is in only his late 20s, but the hat and muttonchops just don’t fit with the unlined, innocent face. A successful grifter has presumably been around the block a time or two. I appreciate that DC lined up another gig for Cafu after they canceled T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents too soon, but a better choice would have been…

Mister Terrific #1 by Eric Wallace and Roger Robinson presents ″world′s third smartest man″ Michael Holt, a kind of Reed Richards with a touch of Tony Stark who has lost the woman he loves but soldiers on, throwing himself into his scientific work. Wallace presents Holt as a likeable, pragmatic man, but I felt like this was more of a miniseries. There just didn’t seem to be enough to base an ongoing book on, but we′ll see. Robinson′s non-dynamic art doesn’t help. I think you need someone with a cleaner, brighter style, like Cafu. Also, honestly, I think the ″Fair″ and ″Play″ tattoos are ridiculous. What would a multimillionaire industrialist be trying to prove with them?

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 by Jeff Lemire and Alberto Ponticelli was the best of the small sampling so far this week. Lemire strikes gold again after the impressive Animal Man debut with this supernatural team book starring a prissing, 700 year old Frankenstein′s Monster, his kick-ass wife, and at the end, cult favorites the Creature Commandos. That could make for a thin Hellboy/B.P.R.D. ripoff, but Lemire brings plenty of fun ideas to it, like a three inch floating headquarters, courtesy of Ray Palmer′s shrink technology, a mad scientist leader in the body of a young girl, and Frankenstein′s marital troubles, which have apparently been going on for a century. Ponticelli brings enough weirdness in his style while still being able to draw things as cool as they need to be. Very fun.

Legion Lost #1 by Fabian Nicieza and Pete Woods, is not a fun book. Im only a casual LOSH fan, but I don’t think my problem with it had anything to do with only knowing half the team. It just wasn’t compelling. We get a group of Legionnaires appearing on modern, 21st Century Earth, trying to find a villain who is going to unleash some sort of virus that will wipe out humanity or somesuch. Timber Wolf goes off, trying to track the guy, and dialogue between the others lets us know that he isn’t the type of teammate to ever wait or listen to others. Okay. We get to know very little about the other characters, despite most of them getting opportunities to gab with each other. They do find the guy, are unable to stop him, and then fire up their time machine again to go to their timeline, where we suspect the virus will mean that everything has changed. I didn’t have a problem with the plot, but the execuion was uninvolving and Pete Woods has turned in much better art before. Rest assured that there will be another team handling the Legion before too long, and this will be undone or ignored

—Christopher Allen