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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