10/13/2011 week in reviews

Zatanna's post-Flashpoint costume. Art by Mich...
*Sigh* – I never really promised timely, did I?

Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest (3/5)
#1 of 2
title – “The Devil Does Not Jest”
writer – Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
artist – James Harren
colorist – Dave Stewart
assistant editor – Daniel Chabon
editor – Scott Allie

Mignola writes a reliable horror/mystery story, and I never get tired of it. Arcudi seems to be of the same cloth, but this is the first of his work (in any shape) that I’ve read. From the first page we know Abe’s going to get into some trouble, so from there it’s only a matter of waiting for the mystery to go pear-shaped, and finding out how Abe gets himself (or doesn’t) out of it. We get the first part here – Abe looks into the disappearance of a favored researcher, a cold case 50 years old, when the researcher’s grandson contacts the bureau.

The set up and Abe’s narrative position are more traditionally Lovecraft, with this being unofficial business and Abe being a fan of the missing researcher’s work. Granted, Abe has a lot more agency and is better armed than a lot of Lovecraft’s protagonists, but we know from Hellboy that this isn’t always a good thing.

Teen Titans #1 (3/5)
title – “Teen Spirit”
writer – Scott Lobdell
penciller – Brett Booth
inker – Norm Rapmund
colorist – Andrew Dalhouse
assistant editor – Katie Kubert
editor – Bobbie Chase

Nice character intro to Kid Flash – enthusiastic and thoughtless, but his heart’s in the right place (kinda). The same detail given to the introduction of Red Robin – broad strokes of his basic character type (Bat-ish, slightly creepy, and technologically advanced). I like the implication of larger geo-political consequences to a lot of teenagers ending up with super-powers, and clandestine operations are always a huge draw. I hope N.O.W.H.E.R.E. ends up being a more interesting antagonist than their name.

While I was never an X-Man fan, per say, the possibilities of that tension between human authority and superhuman action that soaked that book are attractive on a deep level. I’m happy to get some of that here in the DCU. It’s nice to see a teenage superhero team come together in response to a threat to themselves, not as a bored extension of their mentors’ alliances.

Birds of Prey#1 (2/5)
title – “Let Us Prey”
writer – Duane Swierczynski
artist – Jesus Saiz
colorist – Nei Ruffino
editor – Janelle Asselin

I was a Birds of Prey fan before – so trying to figure out what was different this time around was really distracting. I think a new reader might actually have an easier time getting into the story – which is a first for the New 52 books I’ve read so far. There’s a lot of situational-exposition and explanatory flashbacks that serve to introduce the Birds, but not a lot of what you might call “plot” yet. Still, the intros are a lot of fun.

From what I gather, the Birds are a group of women on the wrong side of the law, even further than the basic fact that they’re vigilantes. The book opens with them confronting a bunch of bad buys in silver suits (I didn’t realize that the bad guys were supposed to be invisible until the second reading. That makes a lot of the action much more sensical than it was on the first reading). The bad guys have gotten a journalist to follow the Birds as a sort of reconnaissance agent doubling as bait.

The last pages indicate that the Birds are being used as delivery device and scape-goat organization for something much bigger, so the story set-up works really well for making us care that the Birds in turn are being set up.

Superman #1 (2/5)
title – “What Price Tomorrow?”
writer – George Perez
artist – Jesus Merino
colorist – Bruce Buccellato
associate editor – Wil Moss
editor – Matt Idelson

This is more like the animated Superman, in terms of the type of story being told. We’re back into news, and trying to figure out what came before, as the Daily Planet becomes part of a Murdoch-style news conglomerate. Lois Lane is awesome, proving that her skills translate from getting the story to producing a news broadcast. I miss being able to ignore the weirdness caused by her not knowing Clark’s secret identity, and them constantly butting heads because they both have strong opinions, and he can’t tell her the full truth of the situation. They were a good team when they were married, and I’m not looking forward to the situational hijinks that are surely coming up.

Justice League Dark #1 (3/5)
title – “in the dark part one: Imaginary Women”
writer – Peter Milligan
artist – Mikel Janin
colorist – Ulises Arreola
editors – Rex Ogle & Eddie Berganza

Based entirely on premise, I was looking forward to this title.  Some of that was curiosity as to whether the things I really like about horror comics (HellboyMadam XanaduHellblazer, etc) could be fused with the main DCU.

I think I’m getting what I wanted? A book full of broken people, doing broken things, because the world can’t afford to lose the real heroes?  Madam Xanadu does drugs to bring herself peace from precognition, Shade (someone I’ve never read before) disintegrates the girlfriend he made with magic when she wants to leave him (or she disintegrates because the magic can’t hold her together if she leaves?), John Constantine is a con man, and Zatanna gets advice from Batman, then decides to sacrifice herself in the battle rather than take him with her, because he’s too important.  The danger? A mad-woman with incredible magical powers.  The majority of the book is introducing us to those characters, and the weirdness of the world.

Enchantress is turning the world weird (“The local power station threatens to explode when it is imbued with consciousness…. and gets bored”), a trio of heroes (Superman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg) move to restrain her, and have their assess handed to them. Batman is working on Plan B with Zatanna when she decides to do things her way.

It’s even odds whether this is going to be interesting or a slap in the face.


More New 52 Reviews

Jaime Reyes. Promotional art for Blue Beetle v...

Image via Wikipedia

Batman and Robin #1 (2/5)
title – “Born to Kill”
writer – Peter J. Tomasi
penciller – Patrick Gleason
inker – Mick Gray
colorist – John Kalisz

I picked this one up because of how well Tomasi handled Green Lantern Corps #1, and am tentatively planning on picking up issue #2. The prologue with the Russian batman (we never learn his actual code-name, a-la Batwing) intrigued me greatly, and is my biggest clue to the situation of Batman Incorporated in the new DCU so far (in the issues I’ve picked up). My heart hurts for the guy. The whole “Batman Incorporated” thing is still very much unexplained in the context of the reboot – and isn’t very permeable to new readers. The sentimentality of Bruce’s last visit to Crime Alley is touching, though I wonder how long the “plow it under to allow redevelopment of the neighborhood” change to Gotham’s geography will last in Batman’s mythos. The plot moves from the annual visit on the anniversary of Dr. and Mrs. Wayne’s murder to stopping a theft at a nuclear research instillation, with hints of a larger mystery in the kidnapping and murder of the Russian batman.

The argument about recklessness and the sanctity of preserving life that Batman has with Robin will be familiar to long-time readers, and is introduced with little acknowledgment of Damian’s own origins here. The personality of each character is revealed in both dialog and art, but without the benefit of actual exposition. The material is dark and epic – it seems the storytelling stakes have risen significantly from ho-hum robberies (stealing nuclear material, accidentally exploding the thieves, dissolving a living man in acid), which I feel is unfortunate for attracting un-jaded readers. The deaths don’t have weight in an of themselves, making up for that stylistic slightness in shock value.

Red Lanterns #1 (2/5)
title – “With Blood and Rage”
writer – Peter Milligan
penciller – Ed Benes
inker – Rob Hunter
colorist – Nathan Eyring

This is inaccessible to the new reader, as it requires previous knowledge of the Lantern universe to tell what exactly is going on. There is no explanation of the rings, where these lanterns fit in the Green Lantern mythos, where they are, or why the plant exploding all over Atrocitus resolves the conflict of the issue. We just learn that the characters are angry, very angry. Atrocitus, leader of the Red Lanterns, spends the issue getting in touch with his inner rage – the better to function as the leader. There is no indication that the rest of the Red Lanterns are actually producing thoughts, as such. Not much in the way of plot introduced itself.

Blue Beetle #1 (5/5)
title – “Metamorphosis”
writer – Tony Bedard
penciller – Ig Guara
inker – Ruy Jose
colorist – Pete Pantazis

I am a new reader to Blue Beetle, so I can say that it is quite accessible. The prologue is very much in the mode of “long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away”, with evil invaders, a brief cameo by Green Lanterns, the whole bit. The introduction of The Reach and a conquering army is chilling, particularly the forced-conscription and partial-amnesia of the conscripts.
The introduction to Jaime is very well done – letting the reader know his personality as well as where he fits into the high-school hierarchy (including the presence of gangs and friends that have dropped out). We’re introduced his romantic and friendship interests in two concise pages. We are also introduced to a shadowy more organized crime ring (not one, but two sets of violent thieves) which serve as the plot device that gets the scarab of The Reach into Jaime’s possession. When what’s possessing whom switches around, Jaime’s terror is evident.

Batwing #1 (5/5)
title – “The Cradle of Civilization”
writer – Judd Winick
art – Ben Oliver
colors – Brian Reber

This is the title that’s keeping my attention best, so far, with it’s combination of action, mystery, character interaction, and previously-unknown DCU history.

Ben Oliver’s art is amazing, breathtaking even when its depicting brutal and violent acts (see: the last page). The prologue robs the final panel of it’s urgency, due to the timing already established, but that the initial shock was still present.
We are introduced to Batwing – one of the batmen of Batman Incorporated. No, Batman Incorporated is not explained, and I’m assuming even as much as I am based on the solicits copy for the #1s. For this story, it doesn’t actually matter, even if I personally find the lack of explanation frustrating. We begin with a fight, which we do not realize is over whether or not the villain (Massacre) will slaughter a bus-load of people until Batwing becomes pinned. Then we are shot six weeks into the past (which is how I know the last panel of the book doesn’t mean what I think it means) and we learn that Batwing is a policeman named David Zavimbe, are introduced to policewoman Kia Okuru, whom Zavimbe is trying to mentor without, y’know, letting her know that’s what he’s doing, and the murder case most bloody.

The crime they’re looking into is brutal, and the implied state of the police force is so-corrupt-they-can’t-stand. And it ties to the history of superheroes in Africa (a brief mention of a spontaneous appearance of super-powered people, world-wide sometime in the 1960’s, if they’re using the actual date of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s independence from Belgium, which is a nice look into the historical time-line of the new DCU). The final pages were a kick to the guts, and I really hope Okuru isn’t in that crowd scene.

some DC New 52 reviews and a strange proposal

Guy Gardner (comics)

Image via Wikipedia

And now, the Reboot. I will preface this with the fact that I was neither excited about the reboot, nor have I any faith that it will be anything but a temporary shot in the arm to the industry.

Batman #1 (1/5)
title – “Knife Trick”
writer – Scott Snyder
penciller – Greg Capullo
inker – Jonathan Glapion
colors – FCO Plascencia

“Gimmick” – that is my one-word reaction. Like all Bat-related new beginnings, the story starts by introducing the city. Then we get treated to a story designed to manipulate for shock value – tried and true, you know they won’t actually go there but they’ll pull as much emotional manipulation out of the story as possible.

It is a good entry point for new readers who are fans of 1980s TV police procedurals, as the structural elements and character relationships feel are very familiar to that genre. We get introduced to Gotham City, a bevy of characters. Wayne’s company is doing redevelopment work in Gotham, we see he’s not the only one. There’s a gruesome murder with a secret message that only Batman realizes is there, one shocking disguise, and a cliff-hanging shocker related to the secret message and gruesome murder. Dun dun dun… No character beats whatsoever.

Snyder’s plot is safe and it’s elements are predictable even if the details aren’t. Capullo, Glapion, and Plascencia’s art is crisp and very attractive but not emotive or dynamic – great for stills but not necessarily helping tell the story. I had a problem with having to tell Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, Damian Wayne, and (new to me) Lincoln March (all blue-eyed brunettes) apart by their height (in descending order: March, Wayne, Grayson, Drake, and D.Wayne). I will not be picking up #2.

Catwoman #1 (2/5 – for the middle 11 pages, and Selina’s facial expressions)
title – “… and most of the costumes stay on…”
writer – Judd Winick
artist – Guillem March
colors – Tomeu Morey

I picked this one up in solidarity and nostalgia – Catwoman (Chuck Dixon’s run in the 90’s) is what got me into comic books. I hate the cover and first 4 pages, the middle 11 pages show promise of turning into something worth reading, and I hated the final 5 pages. Ugh.

The title of the storyline accurately represents the first four and last five pages of content – Catwoman is a titillation, with a lot of fanservice; the central turning point of the issue is her sexual relationship with Batman – it’s given a weight in the issue that nothing in her own character gets – her relationship to him becomes the most important thing we know about her in a vehicle meant to introduce her.

Of the middle eleven pages: I do like the presence of Lola, and the art style (different body-types! Actual expressions! Middle-aged faces with what looks like signs of aging!), the dialog grates. The panels showing the beat-down Selina handed the Russian mafia thug (with her shirt open) shows that the framing fo Selina’s breasts and ass earlier is deliberate, because the fight panels were brutal, bloody, and focused on the guy and Selina’s facial expression – no titillation whatsoever beyond her initial distraction. It makes me want to pick up issue #2, just to see if anything comes of that brief glimpse of an actual character under all that cheesecake and the “I am a flippant, cutsey loner” excuse for the dialog.

What I really want? A Catwoman series written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Guillem March. That would be awesome.

I am unable to assess on a new-reader level, because she is so much a part of my comics past. However, if it is accessable to new readers, I see nothing in the story or character here that would make a new reader care enough to pick up issue #2.

Green Lantern Corps #1 (4/5)
title – “Triumph of the Will”
writer – Peter Tomasi
artist – Fernando Pasarin
inker – Scott Hanna
colors – Gabe Eltaeb
I read it twice, and liked it a lot both times.

This is the first that I think provides an immediate “in” for a new reader, Tomasi managed a clever way of introducing Guy Gardner and John Stewart, the Green Lanterns as a police force, and a mystery all at once. Pasarin and Hanna provided the atmosphere for the mystery portions (really creepy, like the good procedurals these days), and the character beats and personality for everyone we’re introduced to (and there are a lot of characters, given it’s a “team” book), cleanly and with a lot of meaning packed in very tightly.

Very quickly, we get the villains that our Lantern Corp will need to catch (even though we don’t technically see them), and have emotional investment in their capture as their first act is to murder two Lanterns. Then we get the two Lanterns of Earth, neither of whom has a secret identity, so we get to see them comfortable with their abilities and using them as an extension of personality and professionalism. The circumstances and manner in which both explain the ring, Corps, and powers to civilians does double duty as showing what kind of men Guy and John are, respectively, and providing the needed exposition on their abilities and responsibilities.

Nightwing #1 (3/5)
title – “Welcome to Gotham”
writer – Kyle Higgins
penciller – Eddy Barrows
inker – JP Mayer
colors – Rod Reis

The exposition monologue isn’t as bad as it could have been. A little clumsy, but it works well with the awkwardness of the reunion at Haley’s – though, it was weird the way that characters at Haley’s spoke to Dick like his parents died only a short time ago (a few years at most). Not a lot of plot to this issue – even when the assassin comes to town (“assassin comes to town”, and “Dick visits Haley’s” pretty much covers it).

The cliff-hanger points to a tie-in with the plot line of Batman #1, either that or Dick being suspected of murder is a plot occurring in two titles, independently of each other.

*quibbling: the advertisement copy on DC’s website and the text of this issue can’t agree whether to spell the circus’ name as “Haley’s” or “Haly’s”

Supergirl #1 (4/5)
title – “Last Daughter of Krypton”
writers – Michael Green and Mike Johnson
penciller – Mahmud Asrar
inkers – Asrar and Dan Green
colorist – Dave McCraig

I am not at all sure what to make of the costume design – but I like the top half. Why is Supergirl’s costume such a headache? Would it have killed them to give her blue leggings, like the ones Superman wears?

The representation of her disorientation is very well executed – Green handles the reveal and escalating panic at a good pace. “Something’s wrong with the sun!” as our yellow sun rises over the Siberia – “This isn’t Krypton!”. And a quick tie to Nightwing #1 in a bit of dialog representing her super-hearing waking up.

The plot is good, with a lot of potential. We start with a disoriented Kara, who doesn’t know (or doesn’t remember) that Krypton is gone, her last memory is heading home with her friends. She wakes up to meet a team of mechanical suits being piloted by a team sent to retrieve the alien (her). As the sun rises, Kara’s powers start manifesting, and she goes from thinking the situation is a dream, to causing damage in her reaction to both the retrieval attempt, the fact that she can’t understand what the retrieval team is saying, and the new abilities freaking her out (as they would anyone). The last shot is Superman trying to stop the combat (we hope).

It’s a good introduction for new readers – though Supergirl’s been rebooted so many times, introducing new readers is something she’s good at.

Batwoman #1 (4/5)
title – “Hydrology, Part 1: Leaching”
writers – J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman
artist – J.H. Williams III
colorist – Dave Stewart

I admit – this was the only title in the reboot that I was actually looking forward to.

It’s also the only title, of those I’ve read, where the story title text isn’t “DC Comics Proudly Presents [book title] in [story title]” here it’s just “DC Comics Proudly Presents [story title]”. Editing error, or something to feel slighted by?

Less a reboot, and more finally launching a long-promised series – the story starts off after the events in Batwoman’s run in Detective Comics, so those are still part of the DCU, and that makes this book a little less permiable to new readers. But the trade from her run in Detective Comics is available, and highly recommended, so it’ll be easy for interested parties to catch up if they want.

The mystery is intriguing, with La Llorona featuring prominently adding the weight of so many missing children to the plot. Also features a threat directly to Kate, as the Department of Extranormal Operations takes an interest in her. They were one of my favorite additions to the cast of Manhunter, and bring in a nice outside Gotham element to the title.

The strange proposal is – there are issues that don’t do anything for me (as the reviews above indicate), but my reaction is not the reaction of others. So – if anyone reading this would like to trade for Batman #1, and possibly other issues in the future please leave me a comment and we’ll discuss the exchange.

cross-posted to my wordpress blog