Posted by: Graeme McMillan on November 6, 2006
I’m writing this on my new handy-dandy Mac laptop, so if there’re any strange characters that appear in this post, then blame Steve Jobs. Also, if anyone knows of any cheap word processing software for a Mac that lets me change fonts (This is being written using TextEdit, which doesn’t seem to want to let me do that), then that’d be nice to know, as well…
Anyway. Comics, shall we?
52 WEEK TWENTY-SIX: I don’t know quite what I was expecting for this halfway-through-the-series issue, but I’m sure that it was something more impressive than this. Not that this was a bad issue, as such, but nothing much actually happened; Black Adam had dinner and the Question met up with some friends, and… um… that was about it. But thinking about it some more, this kind of seems fitting, a sign that, by this point, 52 has become something all on its own in terms of pacing and expectations. That might not necessarily be a good thing, mind you, but still – there’s a very particular way that this series has started to treat its characters and plotlines, with a lack of direct to-be-continued-next-issue cliffhangers and a very weird, leisurely pacing, that is unique in superhero comics these days, so why not have an important milestone marked by an issue kind-of about friends and family, in an indirect way? This issue was Eh to Okay, but the series as a whole has settled into a Good; the turning point, for me, was the nineteenth issue, where it felt as if the writers had finally worked out the kinks in juggling the storylines without particular characters being obviously missing and the timeline seeming screwy when they reappear (Although John Henry Irons still has that problem, I think, and where the hell has Batwoman disappeared to? She was given a big build-up, and then vanished, entirely. I know she’s coming back in a few weeks, but I hope that there’s going to be an explanation as to where she’s been for the last few months), allowing for the series to regain some sense of momentum. But even with weird, stop-start, writing, it’s been an interesting ride so far, with a lot of familiar faces making appearances (Greg Rucka proving, yet again, that he’s the new Chris Claremont by bringing in characters from his Detective and Wonder Woman runs as if every single comic he writes for DC is part of one very large, ongoing, story that only he is paying attention to) and unfamiliar ones being introduced (The Great Ten, Batwoman, Isis, Osiris, the new Infinity Inc., Supernova, etc.), giving the series the feel of unifying and refining the DC Universe, sure, but also being really rather nerdy in doing so. It’s the opposite of something like Civil War, where character continuity is ignored in the service of the ideal of being “new-reader friendly”, but almost more enjoyable for the way it embraces the ridiculous past of the characters without shame. I mean, they even brought Egg-Fu back, and created a giant talking Crocodile Man who wants friends. That’s all kinds of awesome.
CRIMINAL #2: This may be a much nerdier reference that Ed Brubaker would like, but my first thought while reading this was that Criminal is shaping up to be the Battlestar Galactica of comics: Very, very good creators doing some of their best work that transcends the genre that they’re working in while also being exceptionally dark and depressing. Also, Criminal has the heroes being hunted down by robots who happen to look human – what, you thought that the cops were really cops? – so there’s that, too. Anyway, things go from bad to worse for the main characters in this second issue as the heist gets all frakked up (Hey, I mentioned Battlestar Galactica; I had to work in frak somewhere) and people die much earlier than I’d expected. Brubaker’s script is tight and full of tension, and Sean Philips’ artwork continues to be deceptively understated and intelligent (The panel layout is simple and uncomplicated, making it easy for the mythical new-readers to understand, but the linework within the panels is evocative and packed full of information in the way the camera is situated and the body language of the characters). He also provides a great illustration to the text piece in the back of the book, about Brubaker’s favorite film noir. Again, Very Good, verging on Excellent. Here’s hoping it continues to sell better than Brubaker expected.
FANTASTIC FOUR: THE END #1: There was a point when I was reading this that I got excited about the way that Alan Davis seemed to have caught onto what I enjoy about the Fantastic Four: Dr. Doom was fighting the Thing, and the dialogue went “Give peace a chance, y’sick, psychotic nut!” “Ignorant, weak-minded dolt!” Ridiculously over-written dialogue! Punching! This was what I wanted! A shame, then, that that flashback ends and the book became stranded in a future where the team has grown apart because they didn’t talk enough, and the plot was slow and stuck in a pseudo-political mode that mirrored nothing as much as Star Wars: Episode 1 (Seriously, why should I care about the “Methuselah Treatment” or the truce with the Galactic Parliament that’s under threat from supervillain terrorists?). Solidly Eh, because of the way that the initial promise got cut off so dramatically. Alan Davis can still draw up a storm, though.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK #100: My first taste of Planet Hulk, and it’s… alright, I guess. There’s more than a bit of deja vu about the plot, but that kind of works in its favor; yes, we’ve seen the “gladiator rallies the other gladiators against their rulers” plot before, but we’ve never seen it in space and starring the Hulk and had some religious prophecy thrown in there as well, right? There’s something that reminds me of classic 2000AD in the shamelessness of the way the familiar elements are used, which makes me more of a fan than I would’ve been otherwise, but even so, the most interesting story in this anniversary issue is still the back-up, starring a new supporting character who works out why the Hulk isn’t on Earth anymore. Maybe that’s proof that I’m not the world’s biggest Hulk fan, huh? Okay.
JONAH HEX #13: Jordi Bernet joins the creative team in time to illustrate the “shocking” origin of Jonah, and phones it in. In what is either a testament to Bernet’s talent or an indictment of almost every other comic artist around these days, the art is still miles ahead of almost everything else that came out this week. Shame the same can’t be said for the story, which gives Jonah an origin less shocking, and more “He got tortured during the Civil War and then got revenge”. Okay, and that mostly comes from the artwork.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #3: There are so many reasons that I should really enjoy this, not least of which is that it has in some sense a Grant Morrison-esque ambition (The bad guys so far feature Starro, Amazo, Professor Ivo, and the brand-new brother of Mr. Miracle, Dr. Impossible, and we’ve seen an army of Red Tornadoes, which have different elemental powers depending on what color they’ve been painted). But it’s just not working; the narration is uniformly awful – and, for that matter, awfully uniform; Black Lightning, Arsenal and Red Tornado all have the same voice – and the plot has taken three issues (four, if you include the Zero issue) to get started. The scale feels wrong, too, with Meltzer trying to simultaneously go for the massive action epic and small emotional story without hitting either point properly, leaving us with fight scenes punctuated by overly-sentimental schmaltz (Red Tornado’s adopted daughter asking if he’s going to die) or attempts at cryptic (“What I know, John Smith, is that by tampering with you – – they tamper with the balance… What you are right now is human. And in that is the greatest potential of all.”). This is better than last issue, if only because something actually happened this issue, but still, it’s pretty Crap.
THE KILLER: LONG FIRE #1: So, Brian hands this to me and tells me that it’s his favorite thing he’s read all week. I was skeptical, because the back cover blurb didn’t look that promising – “A professional. A man of few scruples, nerves of steel, and a steady trigger finger. A man whose crimes might be catching up with him. A man on the verge of cracking.” – but it turns out that man Hibbs knows his stuff. This is Very Good indeed, a book length monologue from an assassin about how he got into his line of work, the moral ambiguity of murder and the price he’s unwillingly (and perhaps unknowingly) paid for his job, with lush artwork by Luc Jacamon. It shows its origin as a European graphic novel in the sudden break at the end of the issue, but more than convinces you to come back for the next nine issues it’ll take to conclude the serialization. Between this and Criminal, it’s a good week for double-bills of morally dubiousness.
LOCAL #7: Probably the closest of the series so far to Demo, as Brian Wood slips in a one-off story only tangentally connected to the ongoing story of lead character, Megan that also mirrors the hopeless feeling that haunted a lot of his earlier series. I’m not sure how I feel about it, to be honest. It’s well done (Wood’s really good with the ability to evoke not just a strong sense of place but a strong sense of personality in so few pages), but I spent the whole time disliking Nicky, despite the best attempts to humanize him and make him someone to empathize with. Perhaps I just missed Megan. Good.
MIDNIGHTER #1: Yeah, I don’t really care. Sloppily done – The Midnighter is kidnapped and forced to kill Adolf Hitler (which seems like both cheap sensationalism and toothless at the same time – Yes, Hitler was an evil man, but he was so evil that he’s almost become a safe choice to have as bad guy, if that makes sense) because he’s “the most lethal man in the world.” But in order for us to get to that point, the most lethal man in the world has just been beaten up, kidnapped, operated on, and apparently had some superpower that isn’t really explained taken away from him. Doesn’t that make the people who defeated him more lethal, if they can, you know, do all those things to him? Why can’t they go and kill Hitler instead? – and full of dumb macho bits (Watch as Midnighter kicks away a missile that’s been shot at him! And then kicks someone else’s head off!), this is a book that feels generic and done for the money more than any other reason. I’m sure that it’ll have an audience (It is written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Chris Sprouse, after all, so it’s definitely professionally and coherently done), but that audience isn’t me. Crap.
THE NIGHTLY NEWS #1: So, I was an art student once, many years ago. And when I was an art student, I was so impossibly pretentious about everything that I’m surprised that more people didn’t try to punch me in the head and/or give me money to shut up and just draw or something. Not that that has anything to do with The Nightly News, a visually stunning book that really should not be read under any circumstances, of course. I mean, sure, the afterword by Jonathan Hickman says things like “I don’t have the pavlovian emotional response to the word Democrat or Republican that seems to have infected everyone, and I certainly don’t buy into the good vs. evil mentality that has infected intellectual debate in this country… What you can look for [in this series] is a full-on, no-holds-barred, dissection of corporate news and its relationship with both you and I. You know: consumers. How they talk to us. How they sell us. How they educate us,” but that doesn’t mean that he’s being pretentious to try and impress upon us that he’s intelligent and really, means it, man. Yes, narration like “There’s a dying breed of human that thinks they changed the world. They thought that they were revolutionaries. Instead, they grew up to become Corporate Lackeys. Political Ideologues. Divorced Parents. It’s important to know it was coordinated. That they were programmed” and “To find out more about media consolidation, read this section. However, if you’re like me and only care about your own shopping convenience (certainly not anything like iPods made at work camps in China), keep reading at the bottom of the page!” may sound smug and patronizing, not to mention simplistically Them Vs. Us, but I’m sure that it’s all meant very sincerely. Which may be the problem… It’s funny and depressing that the most visually interesting new comic creator since Brian Wood comes along with a debut comic that is probably even more annoyingly self-conscious attempt at being politically and socially relevant and serious than Channel Zero; Reading this, I wanted to be able to talk back to the comic and tell it that, yes, I’ve read Greg Palast and Chuck Palahniuk as well, thanks very much, but maybe things aren’t as straightforward as you want to try and portray them, you know? Hickman is definitely a talent to watch in the future – I’m curious to see if his writing follows the same process as Brian Wood’s, after starting off in the same fashion, and matures as the personal begins to balance out the polemic. But right now, this book is a curiosity: Fascinating and rewarding to look at, and unpleasant to read. Which, I guess, kind of balances out to an Eh.
SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL #1: Somehow, even more retro than I’d expected – that logo isn’t sending out the wrong message at all, with the repurposing of the old-school lettering from DC’s in-house ads from the ’50s – as Darwyn Cooke gives us a Clark Kent and Lois Lane crusading against social ills and trying to use the Daily Planet to save the city from vice and temptation while dressed in sharp fashions that wouldn’t look exceptionally out-of-place in Guys and Dolls, thanks to Tim Sale. In fact, as good as the writing is (and it is good, simple and direct, like Superman stories should be), this is easily Tim Sale (and colorist Dave Stewart)’s show. The artwork is beautiful, especially on the scenes that don’t feature men in underwear leaping tall buildings in single bounds, and thankfully, such scenes make up the majority of the issue. As an ongoing anthology title, of course, this is doomed to the somewhat pointlessness of things like JLA Classified, but this opening issue suggests that the first storyline from these creators is going to be must-read stuff for people who like superhero stories done well. Very Good.
PICK OF THE WEEK is Criminal #2, which doesn’t just prove that #1 wasn’t a flash in the pan, but actually got better. How often does that happen these days? PICK OF THE WEAK would have to be Justice League, which wants to be something and just… doesn’t manage it. It’s oddly reminiscent to me of Bendis’ early Avengers work, so who knows? Maybe there’s going to be a similar learning curve for Brad Meltzer, and I’ll actually miss him when he leaves the book after issue twelve. I’m going to keep TRADE OF THE WEEK until later in the week, just because I got a copy of the first AMERICAN VIRGIN book in the mail the other day and want to write about that some (and I still have to review the Fables book, I know, I know. Sorry).
Next week: Apparently the New Frontier Absolute edition comes out, but I’ll believe it when I see it. What did everyone else read this week, though?