Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Game of Give and Take

It's the eyes that tell us. Wally's are green. Barry's, apparently, are baby blue.

Not often nowadays do we get an issue's big reveal on its cover. But by showing us the Flash who disintegrated during the first Crisis, DC does something important with Final Crisis issue two.

They extend an olive branch.

Now, my praise may be early, but this gives me faith that they understand the concept of trilogy. Having been who knows where, Barry's someone who could in fact shed light on what secretly connects the bloated Crisis events that continuously alter characters' perceptions of themselves.

Grant Morrison plays exceptionally well in this field. Whether there is sense to be made from the previous two epics or not (yeah, and blood comes from turnips), he at least has the potential to convince us otherwise. From Animal Man on up, he's delved into the relationship between character and writer, fiction and reality. He acknowledges that superheroes are modern deities whose various embodiments tie directly into our societal yearnings (see the new Thor series for this ethos in action).

Philosophizing aside, Morrison endears us to his spectacle with equal parts sugar and solid character work. The first quarter of the issue is devoted to a deliciously self-indulgent window upon the Japanese hero scene. And though tossed open merely to introduce Sonny Sumo, what we get is, from J. G. Jones's peerless pencil, a fetish-cornucopia: a clear ancestor of the Legion's Karate Kid, a winged, sparrow-sized school girl, a Battle of the Planets dweeb, a bathroom icon wearing a cape, a cyborg whose heart is ripped out and left draining into a glass. Also, for the first time outside of Seven Soldiers, we see the new Mr. Miracle. More on his recruitment of Sonny Sumo as it develops, I'm sure.

The second half, featuring Batman's daring against an Alpha Lantern, is marred only by Superman's line at Martian Manhunter's funeral: "We'll all miss him. And pray for a resurrection."

For serious? Was Superman supplicating Geoff Johns, the All-Father? Last issue, Supes called for a Justice League amber alert, making me wonder if the the 52 Earths will be saved by simultaneously drilling for oil on 52 Alaskan reserves. Regardless, issue three promises to be glorious, what with Clayface bombing the Daily Planet, Lois corpsed-up in the rubble and- wait for it- not a single shot yet accounting for the building's GIGANTIC ROTATING ORB as it hits midday traffic.

Oh, and there are three Flashes again, making the DC Universe richer in bunly goodness than Marvel could ever hope to be. 5/5 zagnuts.

Next up we have the Immonen-sculpted wonderland that is Ultimate Spider-Man, Within this genuinely surprising issue sits a dejected Eddie Brock, recounting to random strollers how a punk named Parker dropped his ass in the loser column. Instead of being a self-righteous maniac, like the Brock of Marvel's 616 Universe, this one is presented more as a Hollywood monster. The symbiont needs to eat, and while it does, Eddie recedes, only to awaken unaware of the damage done.
I read his pathetic narrative, noting that with each check of the frame someone new was on the park bench with him, and thought, "Bendis sure is dumbing this down to Hades." The bulk of the issue, actually, is an extended fight with Silver Sable's Wildpack (and Bendis never gives us exposition during a fight, a genre convention he should yield to for the bloody sake of a little thing called flow). But the final page of Venom casually engulfing Brock's incredulous listener like toothy yeast redeemed the entire thing. 4/5 zagnuts.

And for a title that is pure mana to sniveling Claremontite like me, there's Mike Carey's X-Men Legacy. Where to begin documenting the sheer virtuosity displayed herein? The fact that the retcon in action is so massive yet so perfect? The way the story must, by the end, truly pave the way for a new kind of X-tale?

Wait- what in the name of Bishop's mullet am I talking about?

As we all lament daily, hourly, the X-Men have a challenging history. Most writers quail before its breadth, and can only hope they do justice to the preceding thirty years of cutting edge adventures. Sure, there have been lapses, most notably by a fucker named Chuck Austen, but there are simply so many characters and set pieces that the permutations possible always have fans hoping someone worthy will take up the reins and return the series to greatness.

It can be said that the best X-Men stories are those that explore and embellish the rich history. Scott Lobdell was a master, capable of tapping an encounter for the maximum depths of emotion. Grant Morrison was a maestro, never failing to call up his favorite era, the late seventies, while blazing forward with outre concepts. Others like Alan Davis and Steve Seagle had smaller parts, but nonetheless worked within the editorial system.

Said system, stating that the X-Men are a family, a school and most importantly a soap opera, starting breaking down when stories were cranked out in the tediously decompressed "trade paperback" style. There were no subplots, no references beyond the current story- in short, they were devoid of anything that would confuse the sweaty swarms of new readers exiting the movie theater, desperate for more Wolverine.
The pendulum, thank fuck, has swung back to where it should be. Marvel is no longer micro-focused on marketing certain kinds of stories- they just tell good stories.

Enter Mr. Carey. He's not only cherry-picked the X-Men's recent past (the 90s) for elements that have yet to be dry-humped by everyone else, but he's also made fascinating some really underrated villains. Nathaniel Essex, or as your mom knows him, Mr. Sinister, was only ever a background manipulator. He blackmailed a naive Gambit into gathering the Marauders. He toyed with genes and may have tampered with a young Scott Summers. He would have liked to cure the Legacy Virus. Beyond that, nothing concrete.

Now we find that, before Xavier, Sebastian Shaw or Cain Marko even had pubes, he'd performed a procedure that wrote his being into their genes. Should he die, a machine called Cronus would cycle among the candidates, searching for one who was most vulnerable to being outright possessed by Sinister.

One of my loyal readers once mentioned that comics used to veer into strange territory, defying categorization. There'd be runs that strove for resonance of a subtler kind, rather than bowing to trends and nostalgia. Sadly, I've already heard that this format of Xavier exploring his own demons will only last until year's end.

But then what? Actually, I'm extremely optimistic. Carey has the creative stamina to dance between crossovers, much like Claremont did in the 80s, when the dreadful trend began. And, with Matt Fraction coming to Uncanny, I just get the willies... Good stuff is coming. 4/5 zagnuts.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Loving this comic is easier than wrapping my narrow ass around an entire pizza and waking up hours later unsure of the decade. But like the above activity, I will most certainly regret it.

Unique by Marvel's standards, Skaar, Son of Hulk takes place on a planet full of tribal monsters at war. It's brimming with constant violence, fantastically expressive art and, best of all, is only superficially tied to the rest of the company's bipartisan universe. With this winning palette, Greg Pak (World War Hulk) and Ron Garney (Spider-Man) can do whatever they'd like.

For ten issues.
Then Skaar will be dropped into the same methane-belching pit as X-Statix, NextWave and The Order. Controversial books all, the best at what they did certainly, but far too subversive to be supported outside of DC's Vertigo line. One of Wolverine's six books, or better yet, a napkin like New Warriors, will instead totter along into perpetuity, allowing mediocre creators to sharpen their cliche-craft.

Well, now that I've expelled some of the rich green goo that is my faith in marketplace diversity, let's chat up Doc Banner's brat. During super-gestation in his mom's womb, invulnerability saved Skaar as his father's ship blew, nearly taking the planet with it. Hulk had already left for Earth, fueled by visions of a powerless Reed Richards wrastlin' an unarmored Tony Stark to the death (before revolutionizing zombie chic with their Feeding-Tube Diet, the Olsen twins always used to fight over the last Dorito- so anything can happen).

The planet Sakaar had been liberated in the classic Conan sense: a slave rose through numerous death-matches to become king. With the idyllic dreams of all that the Hulk represented gone to ash, this place only grew more brutal afterward. We see that as a toddler Skaar battles cattle-sized earwigs with his teeth and bare hands. And, while un-inked Ron Garney is quite rough and in need of real black, his art remains singularly epic. The arrival of AxeMan Bone on a tamed dragon is gorgeous.

Little happens in this issue aside from us finding the character in the hands of they who think him a savior. Then Barbarians show, and scrawny, bald Skaar becomes death-delivering hippie Skaar. Limbs fly and someone is boiled alive- a great first date, I'd say.

I didn't find this lacking in the slightest. Surely Greg Pak knows he's got to prove the necessity of this comic. He's having his cake with The Incredible Herc, but also continuing the Hyperborian free-form begun in WWH. It may not be a coincidence that this title launched during the brief hiatus between Conan volumes.

The attention to detail Pak flaunts with ease may never come into play here, and Garney's art may be a piss-take, but I'm with them until Quesada's thumb drops. 4/5 zagnuts.

And in keeping with this post's theme, we have the increasingly yummy Wonder Woman. Gail Simone, Aaron Lopresti and inker Matt Ryan have shifted gears and brought this title careening around several delightful corners.

Anyone remember the white gorillas from Simone's first arc, the ones hiding in Diana Prince's apartment? They finally return here, in time to welcome her partner Tresser, who's been tasked with finding out whether she and Etta Candy are Amazon sleepers. In the near future, should the gossiping, peppered-loaf-eating Candy accidentally take a few rounds to the computer, I'd consider Christmas and my birthday covered (not likely though, because what did I put in Simone's stocking last year? Peppered loaf).

That sub-plot takes up four pages. The rest, shared by Wondy and Beowulf, are some of this art teams most energetic and minutiae-driven. Both of their costumes are complex, as are those of the possessed horde they wade through. The pair then faces a Crom-worshipping meatwad, raven of hair, red of hand, and on whom the Lasso doesn't work. This may be because Diana's dropped Hephaestus in favor of Polynesian tanning diety Kane Milohai. The result is Diana's right hand becoming that of a red beast.

Had none of the above been kinky enough, the final page shows an enormous dead shark washed ashore at Themyscira, a triangle of flesh removed and Hippolyta taking the blame. So not only is Simone shuttling prior devices into play, but she's integrating them alongside the new- fundamental tasks not all writers bother to do. Thus, 5/5 zagnuts.

And how goes the jumbonium-infused effort that is Trinity? Bagley shoots for and scores in three gently segmented battles that each could have come from a solo issue of Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. The big three suffer calamities (miniature galaxy expanding over Metropolis, future Gotham policed by zealots, giant robots) that are deeply vulnerable to what makes each tick. Superman thinks out his problem, solving it with measured strength. Batman analyzes until a single word shatters the illusion surrounding him. And Wonder Woman, man-hating nutcracker that she is, uses faith and unbridled rage to finish the robots.

Methinks they're being tested. But there isn't time for lemon bundts and philosophy (unlike here in the Me Comics Read Good Pavilion). An alert tells them that John Stewart is yet again in trouble, since he refuses to buckle down and live off of that pesky architecture degree. Enter Fabian Nicieza and Tom Derenick for the comic's second half.

I usually loathe Derenick's work, with the weirdly simian faces he draws. Here, thankfully, he reins it in (or perhaps inker Wayne Faucher does). Konvikt and Graak, introduced last issue, show up in Massachusetts, not to get married, but to paint the Berkshires in BLOOD. That, and speak in the third person. Of note during the battle is Green Lantern's loss of control over his ring, as it's commandeered by an unseen force that could almost anything at this point (though Morgan le Fey and Enigma have my vote). My hopes are still high. 4/5 z-nuts.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Summer of Wuv

This is by far the most gorgeous cover, not only of the week, but of any Amazing Spider-Man I own. The writing by Dan Slott (the Jordan Knight of Spidey's braintrust) is fairly killer too.

By now all you haters have taken several cold showers, desperate to banish the stench of Mary Jane's return. Well, you're all lucky that Mr. Slott is sensitive to your needs. Peter and MJ don't actually come within squirting range of each other, managing, through her celebrity boy-toy's panic room and Paper Doll's clutches, to avoid contact.

It's also become clear that Slott is, in fact, the only writer allowed to wrap the final bow around a given subplot. Which is for the best, since of the bunch he's endowed with the most grace, subtlety and everything in between. In this issue, Peter finally moves out of Aunt May's again for real, and moves in with a police officer. Not a detective, mind you, just a donut-depository who provides (crappy) security at political gatherings.

Peter's move had been gossiped so insistently throughout the series by everyone, whether he was present or not, that it had taken on a "Howard Mackie's Ghost" quality, whereby my fanboy DNA fully expected the writers to change before anything even happened. But I needn't have feared. Also cleared up (to what is currently a believable degree) is the identity of heroine Jackpot. We were ready to believe fellow nerd Carlie (toward whom Peter's sperm fleet is pointing no matter where either of them are in the world) capable of the wig and bell-bottoms, but in a beauteous sidestep, it turns out that the civilian name Jackpot gave in an earlier issue, Sara Ehret, is on the level. Sara seems nice enough during her last page cameo, having stalked MJ to the airport.

Other things of note include a Birds of Prey worthy rump-roast shot of MJ while she monitors Spidey's fight from the panic room. It seems a true case of multiversal confluence, since Marcos Martin's Batgirl series, featuring a teen Barbara Gordon, had to by definition show us the character before she'd, er, developed her digital omniscience. Making up for this bizarre
visual is the explicitly marvelous page where Spidey and Paper Doll jump from Orlando Bloom's apartment into a pool below. If you haven't partaken, you've my pity.

My pet prediction for the future is that Carlie will be the one to find out Peter's secret. Or she'll be the new goblin. It's all good anyway- if we disapprove, Marvel will bust out the amnesia ray. 4/5 zagnuts.

Aaand, we can breath easier. The longest fart ever, more commonly known as Drew Goddard's run on Buffy, is over.

This story had some great set pieces, especially Dawn stomping Tokyo (what a bitch). All were squandered however, in the same manner that the show's potential was: there's only one Joss Whedon. I'd rather have the characters be unrecognizable than be more infantile versions of themselves (let's be honest, they're already pretty infantile).

But because Whedon still steers the ship, all the emotional payoff he'd intended is basically unchanged. The upside is that Xander and Dracula honor Renee's death wonderfully. The downside is that Buffy's queerness, which Dorksylvania has been pining for ever since Cruel Intentions, has finally, forcefully come to pass. Months ago, I thought, "Well, she'll bag this chick as an appetizer for Willow- YAWN," and sure enough, slayer and witch cutely rib each other about Most-Fuckable lists.

There's nothing I resent more than social commentary when it's inserted so as to be grossly ineffective. Back in the day, when Willow checked Get Gay off of her collegiate checklist, Republican fans of Buffy across the galaxy ground their dentures in rage. Oh, wait. That must have been in Milky Way B.

Some would say this is character growth. I'd rather say it's a Rubix-Cube level of dynamic personality that Ben Franklin and maybe Newton (when drunk) possessed. But Buffy needed this on her resume the same way I need to shit in my neighbor's pool: to impress everyone everywhere. 2/5 zagnuts.

But if'n you want a book that'll stick to the ribs, try the devilishly compact Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley opus Trinity. This new weekly will be in direct competition for my love with the wonderland that is Amazing Spider-Man.

Quite like J.M. Straczynski, Busiek excels in recalling tones from yesteryear's palette, all the while spinning them to keep an adult rapt and jonesing for more. And our artist, fresh from the salt mine that was Ultimate Spider-Man, has a blisteringly good time drawing DC's characters for the first time ever. Bagley seriously hasn't been this solid since Thunderbolts (quiet, you).

The plot so far is that of a cosmic entity demanding freedom who sends Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman dreams loudly stating the fact. Everything around that is pure candy- the big three interact as friends and colleagues without the cumbersome trappings of any other story. There is no gimmickry on parade- they are icons. Each talks, thinks and behaves uniquely. Each filters the strange dream through the lens of his/her origin, bringing us the angles of criminology, science and mysticism. The Flash and Clayface appear as well, giving us the issue's brief, tasty action.

And at the rear end of this comic, we get Fabian Nicieza and Scott McDaniel showing us the assemblage of three titanic villains that the Trinity will face-off against. In the weeks to come the artist will change, but the scenes were intercut perfectly. Morgan Le Fay's scrying flame revealed scenes illustrated by Bagley, embellishing the lighter first half with foreboding.

As excited as I am, I know people out in some stank borderland will hate this. It's too simple, too optimistic, to compete with Final Crisis. But you sure as hell don't need to read/buy/question-the-validity-of five auxiliary series just to enjoy Trinity. And this tale doesn't plan to Change Everything For Two Months. It just plain has to be good. Well, success. 4/5 zagnuts.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Don't Wake Me

And on your left...

The phenomenal era of Thor being taken just seriously enough (sorry Mr. Oeming) rockets onward. J. M. Straczynski, a writer ever up to the task of keeping a character indefinitely readable, answers that call and so many more in yet another dazzling issue.

That his title burns so hotly with readability is due to nothing less than the writer's flawless grasp of tone. And this is an Asgard so far bereft of conflict! Sure, our lovable tranny God of Mischief is present (sometimes lacking eyebrows and matching pupils- cue Marilyn Manson flashbacks, shuddering and moving on) but she's thus far spoken sweetness that her brother might ignore her.

Which he surely does. Thor is only on two pages in this issue, emphasizing Straczynski's appreciation for the supporting cast that had been abandoned over the years to varying degrees of disaster (Thor with a machine gun wasn't even that BAD, just fakin' retahded). Here we get Loki at her most superbly subtle, doing little more than challenging Balder and the Warriors Three to avoid wasting their new lives. They're built for bloodletting after all, despite the reprieves granted by being dashing, grim and 653 pounds.

It then follows naturally that Straczynski, and we of Alpha Dweebsilon, want Olivier Coipel to draw frost giants getting carved into dumplings. Loki provides this sport, summoning the giants and telling them that Balder will go squish, like, totally. Baldur, of course, is a nut uncrackable second only to Thor, and proves it quite splashily.

In this little diversion are sown the seeds of future mayhem. Thor must come down to the station and ask that Balder otherwise occupy his sword (who will end up boating the bass that Loki's become?) in ways that won't horrify the locals. Thor isn't angry, but fatherly- and therein squats the porcupine.

A new dynamic is flung into motion as Loki tells Balder that HE is Thor's half-brother, and rightly deserving of Asgard's throne. All this AND the comedic stylings of a smitten local named William. Hit me with another ten years worth.

Brian Bendis and Stuart Immonen, the second of three dream teams herein splogged, deliver another done-in-one issue of Ultimate Spider-Man. While not as fun as the previous encounter with Omega Red, we get more balanced, genuinely enjoyable situations that let the title breathe between larger stories.

Not much happens except for the Shocker pummeling Peter with a rant on creativity and commerce. It's shrill and whiney and kind of right, but I can only imagine reading the same script drawn by Mark Bagley. I may not have survived it.

Same thing with Kitty convincing a cop that Peter needs help. There are nineteen boxes spread across two pages, and not only are some of them not faces, none of them repeat. As much as I admire Bagley for being quick, on this title specifically, the years were vicious. He'd lost an astounding degree of consistency that, were it Spidey's costume being drawn more than half of the time, might have remained. The sheer number of talking panels likely bored the snot out of him.

Now, either Bendis has adjusted his scripts, Immonen himself is like human wine, or both, I love the new alchemy. This comic struts. I'm deeply, pornographically under this spell Stewey's carried through Ultimate FF, Ultimate X-Men and Nextwave. I want to somehow scan shit comics into a program that will change the artist to Stuart Immonen and then- actually, I'll shut up with that.

Last but never least is All-Star Superman, by the two-headed Loch Ness Monster of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. I just tonight read a thing on my thing that this run has only one more issue left. That's probably good, because, though still wondrous and wacky as all heck, the stress cracks are a-showin'.

Grant's promised us the DEATH of Superman and has only one nugget of Scottish ka-zoom in which to present it. That means more forward movement through a coherent narrative, with less future-science explanations for neato things he's sprinkled everywhere. And sadly, some things in this issue, not even neato things, NEED explanations lest they decay into them pesky plot holes that can strip a summer movie to the bone.

Make no mistake, all of you Pepys-perusing dandelions out there: this run would be the ultimate Superman film (unlike the reading of Michael Scott's mind, for this we have the technology). We'd only have to explain why Luthor, about to be fried in an electric chair, is allowed to do anything let alone mix a final secret potion. It's a 24 hour superpower serum (way to wait until now to create such a thing with the vast array of ingredients available in prison)! All hail convenience! Another element cluttering up this comic like a pair of oh-so useful high-heeled Chuck Taylors is the tyrant sun Solaris.

Though this creature looks awesome (and like a dweller in the pre-Cambrian soup) it isn't actually the size of a sun. Neither is the Sun-Eater that happens to escape its holding cell at the beginning of the issue. After the two have their cosmic showdown, Solaris crashes to Earth and, shown to be the diameter of Batman's penny, does less damage than anything falling from space should.

Then Luthor shows up with powers as Clark drops dead over his laptop. All great set pieces- but not of the same quality this title began with. In good consciousness, I can only give this comic 3.5 out of 5 zagnuts.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

One Book To Fool Them All

Here, in the first issue of Final Crisis, begins the supposed last installment of the Crisis Trilogy. This assertion is a tad ballsy coming from the people who inflicted the Countdown series on us like a weekly subway mugging.

Two-thirds of the way through Countdown, it was plain to readers that the characters' actions (all four of them) were stalling tactics. The real action was over in another series called Death of the New Gods. Err... wait. Try Countdown Arena. Even hackwork from Scott McDaniel has to go somewheres! Or not. DC editorial eventually told us what they were counting down to...

That means an entire YEAR of mediocre comics was the cost (in brain cells) of this conspicuously gorgeous J.G. Jones series. A year of comics that killed my interest in their resolutions by being incoherent and dull. A year in which, had DC's landscape not become a crud-topia, my questions regarding dying New Gods and multiple Monitors would have simmered organically.

But alas, here we is. DC's dependables are finished chopping up Grant Morrison's Big Ideas like just-auctioned blue fish (Gail Simone being a notable exception), and the thing we're supposed to care about is before us. The first interaction we see, disconcertingly, shows Metron giving paleolithic Man (Anthro) the knowledge to make fire. So immediately Morrison's tweaking the game so that the New Gods are literally creators of civilization rather than alien superheroes.

Now, I love the guy. His shtick of moonwalking back and forth over fine lines of continuity and cutting edge works ninety-eight percent of the time. If this is part of the story, great. I'm sure many intriguing revelations are forthcoming. I fear, though, that there's an equal chance these images from the dawn of genocide (New X-Men wants its opening back) have been thrust in place to give the tale grandeur.

But what else is in here? We see New God Orion, half-alive on a ship bound for garbage island. We see Darkseid making unsubtle plans to reshape Earth after the demonic fashion of Apokalips. We get another version of the Injustice League, in front of whom the mysterious turk Libra trots a Martian Manhunter weak enough to kill. Also, Monitors showing emotions other than homicidal psychosis.

It's hard to distrust these pages because of their sheer beauty. Yet, thanks to the glut of preparatory mini-series, none of these ideas are fresh any more. I want Morrison and Jones to floor me with this series, but I resent that it has to stink of "A-List Creators' Projects Are Better".

Speaking of which, across the hall we've got the last Joss Whedon issue of Astonishing X-Men. It's four months late, it's a little longer, with scanned-in skyscrapers as unobtrusive as pink cats, but holy fuck is the writing delicious. We discover, for example, that Agent Brand of S.W.O.R.D. is in love with Beast: "I'm so frikkin' hot for you right now I could pass out." This is not a throwaway line. At the end, Brand offers Beast a position with her group and at her side, based solely on their intellectual compatibility. The fact that cat man is handled with this much heart is absolutely wonderful.

Quite a bit of the Marvel U shows up in support of the X-Men- Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, the Sentry and even the FF with that weird female Thing from Walt Simonson's run. The scene where we find they're being mind-controlled is beautiful- creepy, CHECK PLEASE smiles all around.

Both Kitty and Peter live up to their potential in heart-rending ways, the former phasing a giant bullet through the Earth (and being unable to let go of it), the latter threatening to rule the BreakWorld by force if necessary. And as literal events, these stand one way. But also running throughout the book is Whedon's tying up of emotional loose ends, hitting every right note concerning Emma and Kitty's animosity like only a man of his range can.

Well, now we get to wait, shitting in fear of what Warren Ellis will do. Is he going to take this seriously, as if it were his precious Ms. Sparks and company? Or will we get the multi-tasking hitman who'd really rather be crooning with Nick Cave in the Middle East basement?

Tedious considerations like sleep and work must cut short this missive, my nerdlings. But more to come in the near future.

And never forget- I want to have all of your babies.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I'm Gonna Make You Love Me

Many readers find themselves challenged by the lack of gray areas and soaring cheerfulness of a Geoff Johns comic. And by this I mean that, in a given script, characters will bond in a family setting, we'll find them genuinely interesting and life-like, and then one or more of them will be viciously murdered.
Good is (some would say) lollipop good and bad is, like, WICKED bad. I not only have no problem with this, I prefer it. I still have a kid in me. I read comics, among other reasons, to transport myself back to when my only concerns were to secure pizza and that copy of Blaster Master from the video store.
Comics are indeed art at the high end of the spectrum. But I don't' care how "weird" high school was, how traumatic courting that goth chick was, comics are not, I repeat NOT, literature. And yes, I love Watchmen, but its particular grandeur cannot be replicated no matter what kind of misogynist Mr. Fantastic becomes. In great novels or series of them, characters are built up by a single writer who's invested everything in them. The writer is invisible because his is the only voice with which these characters have ever spoken. You never pause to think, "Huh- Elric sure is COKED OUT OF HIS GOURD today!" Comics being a stranger, more rarefied animal, they're preyed upon by parasites of the worst kind: stunt writers.
These are youngsters brimming with great dialogue, cutting-edge ideas and the eagerness to ride iconic characters to the top. By the end of the ride, however (or sometimes seconds into it), said icons are unrecognizable.
I belabour this point only to outline what Geoff Johns isn't. When he signs on to write a book (Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern) he's there for the characters' benefit, not his own. If, after fifty+ issues he hasn't made all the hero's major rogues menacing again, given the hero a supporting cast whose lives intertwine organically with his, and kept the whole thing exciting- then he's failed. Meanwhile, at the end of a Brian Bendis run, if he hasn't cornholed all of the characters into talking like Al Pacino, he's failed. If Mark Millar hasn't shown us Sue Richards sodomized by a zombie Human Torch and (ULP!) liking it, then he's failed.
But all of this isn't to blacken the word stunt- because the current JSA story, a sequel the monstrously enjoyable Kingdom Come (1997) is just that. The upside is, after having nurtured these characters himself for eight years, Geoff Johns cares if it works.
Does it?
The fact that this supposed sequel has risen from and now flows alongside the growth of the newly gathered Justice Society tells me yes- loudly. Development on several fronts, such as bringing in old members and attracting new, all the while helping an aged, stranded Superman cope, are entertaining enough. Mysteries abounding in the background, however, show just how stratospherically more dexterous is Johns' pen compared with the rest of the industry.
Someone is murdering those who claim to be gods (metahumans, rekanize). The new Mr. America (his predecessor fell dead through the JSA's skylight- this one uses the front door) contacts the team, explaining that his investigation has turned up the word "GOG" at one of the crime scenes. What we've sussed out, thanks to bath-robe wearing, crumb-cake eating Superman, is that Gog was the inspiration for Magog, the man who ruined Earth 22 (where Kingdom Come was set). It would therefore behoove the JSA to make this douche their problem now, mitigating later catastrophe. As they engage in a multi generational squabble as to who is suited to fight this slayer of gods, the villain simply teleports into their headquarters. Then begins a mouth-watering Sistine Chapel of street fights, choreographed with all twenty-four heroes by the inimitable Dale Eaglesham.
By the end, they've teleported after the intruder into the jungles of the Congo (where we've been teased repeatedly by a giant stone face). I'll only say that I'm reminded, gleefully, of Angel season 4, in which an Oprah-esque deity brings unsolicited peace to the world. Also, at issue's very end, we get a "things-to-come" page, promising the return of Black Adam and Power Girl's creepy Earth 2 playmates- WAAhoo!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sing It, Honey!

Recent forays into the history books have shown me that people usually can't escape their time period: Romans saw into the future, Medieval Europeans let dung pile up and we of whatever century this is... well- we can't shut our traps.

Without further preamble, I'm a comics reader of twenty years, obsessed with continuity and here to knitpick the holy hell out of every week's batch.
So here I go.

Something is going on in Amazing Spider-Man these days, something HUGE. The question is, how old do you have to be to appreciate it? Peter Parker was always meant to be the patron saint of nerds, or maybe even a golem that nerds cooked up in the basement that could brave the great unknowns: soda with the "gang", a hectic newsroom job involving "human contact". But aside from the radiation and the spandex (givens), Parker had the nerve to grow up and marry a model/actress. Who threw THAT in the pie?

Being fictional and all, poor Pete was (is) at the end of the marketplace choke-chain. He hadn't the luxury of gliding through the late 80s and 90s without picking up a gun, accepting cybernetic enhancements and being PISSED. His trials included, but were never limited to, his wife smoking, his aunt stroking, grudge-bearing clones, his wife cheating, his aunt dying, fake cybernetic parents, and many more dignity-proof tales (it could have been worse- Mark Bagley and John Romita Jr. at least drew most of it). Recently though, we zeroed in on and erased the hate (her name was Mary Jane), allowing us to bask in a "Brand New Day" for Mr. Parker.

And that means what, exactly?

It means, dude(crushing beer can to head), that it's 1974 again! Spider-Man has his own meta-fiefdom, where world-shattering Marvel events actually have negative sway. He's horny, he's broke, and when Iron Man's Inititive goons finally show up with a gun that can obliterate his powers, he'll say, "Can I get fries with that?"

It is of course readers who experienced 70s Spidey the first time calling bullshit. And I will grant them that this ship hasn't been sailing evenly. The Marc Guggenheim issues, especially, suffer from "wacky uncle" syndrome, where a bunch of birthday cards may well have gone into the shredder before being dumped across the art. He is one of four writers in the braintrust, along with Zeb Wells, Bob Gale and Dan Slott. The stable of artists is twice the number.

To the naysayers, I chant: structure. Spidey's stories haven't been this nimble in years. Multiple plots duck and weave. The supporting cast, like a spoiled brat's (that's us) action figure collection, continues to expand. The toggling between Peter and Spidey is balanced and briskly done. The cynic in me says that Marvel only wants to cash in on the weekly format pioneered by DC's 52 series, which also had a multiple writers and artists share the work to critical and financial success.

The cynic in me will also be waiting at this computer in 2016, bones aglow by moonlight, waiting for Frank Quitetly to upload All-Star Superman #12 into his mind from beyond the fucking Oort Cloud. In other words, the weekly format rocks. It's changing comics for the better, acknowledging that people have hundreds of things to do, and if they're going to set aside time to read, Spider-Man better be just as busy.

Also returning to vogue is the very thing that made Stan Lee great: something new every issue. The one above features the debuts of Screwball (cover) and Paper Doll, two not-quite femme fatales both meant, by godsend Dan Slott (the Justin Timberlake of the writing team), to play off of Peter's new task as paparazzi. The sugar-rush stylings of Marcos Martin (Batgirl) and colorist Javier Rodriguez are a wonder to behold.

I've given ASM this much space because I plan to dissect it giddily each week. It'll also be fun to contrast it with DC's next weekly comic Trinity, which begins soon.

Now for the scrubs.

There must have been an overlap between Warren Ellis finishing his Thunderbolts run, and being assigned Astonishing X-Men. Norman Osborn, director of the villains turned Initiative WMDs, has a five page rant that, while entertaining, assures me that Marvel's check for this story was spent on love beads long ago. Admittedly, the Green Goblin is meant to be crazy/evil, and having him fondly reference contration camps and Hitler is one HELLUVA shortcut. But later in the issue a hired gun does the same thing, proving that this script was read over maybe once by anyone (not Ellis) before seeing print. In the previous issue this irritating lapse is even more glaring:

IMPRISONED TELEPATH- "Not sure what to do with Penance. Physically, he's actually pretty weak-"

SONGBIRD- "Wow. That's... that's actually a pretty disgusting way to-"

MOONSTONE- "It's actually pretty funny."

SONGBIRD- "Okay, now I'm actually really scared."

These are all from different pages and, normally, between tokes, I wouldn't remember where I saw what. I might even have seen Ellis himself depicted as the entire cast (fuck knows he couldn't have intended otherwise). But I happened to have read this thing on the train, where the dialogue's rhythm was about as engaging as bouncing, shrieking metal. Months late as these issues were, thanking Mike Deodato's insistence that characters look like Tommy Lee Jones, Edward Norton and Ali Larter, someone (me, for free) COULD have deloused this script. Oh, and the Green Goblin's mask has teeth. I'm sure it made sense in the oxygen tent. Next!

Mercifully, Gail Simone's Wonder Woman has gotten the very dependable Aaron Lopresti for art. In his first issue he does some George Perez-style flair bordering the first page, but doesn't kid himself that it's essential to the whole issue. Simone, lacking the Birds of Prey so well suited to her, has saddled Diana with a compromise between Oracle and, uh... Gail Simone. The feisty redhead, Etta Candy, isn't hogtied by the fact that Diana's a goddess when chatting her up about men and food. The sort of cutesy banter gone for here went well in Birds of Prey because the characters were already grounded in Gotham. But, as in this issue where getting to the action means Diana having an out-of-toned-body experience, thereby ditching Etta, the dialogue seems wasted. Etta was even more intrusive and less believable in the prior story, where the pair battles a green lantern off-planet. Having a well-rounded cast is great and all, but I can see this getting worse. And it's all in service to Diana's supposed need for understanding our culture, which was done amazingly with the book tour Greg Rucka sent her on during the last volume. Still, I trust Simone to be here awhile and make it her own, giving us fifty average issues instead of ten hideous.

Well, thanks for the laughs, my zit-addled peers. Try not to roll over onto that pizza propped next to you in bed.