Friday, March 17, 2006

Whee! Comics! Pull List for March Thus Far

Before we begin, I have to follow through with a threat -

"Blue Beetle is better than any character Alan Moore could EVER come up with! Oh yeah, I said it!"
- Aaron Trites

This comment was SCREAMED during an argument about the book Birds of Prey. In one particular story arc, Barbra Gordon has talked the retired Ted Kord into riding around in The Bug, his floating beetle air-ship thingee, with her. Ted talks about how he's retired from super-heroics with Barbra until they see a train on fire. He is reluctant to get involved, until Babs talks him into suiting up and rescuing some people. Afterwards she points out that he should keep the costume on, and keep super-heroing.

If this sounds familiar, that's because it's a scene practically stolen from WATCHMEN, the most read and acclaimed graphic novel of ALL TIME. Now, I know that the character from Watchmen, Night Owl, was based on the Blue Beetle, but that doesn't excuse just TAKING a scene from another book! When I pointed to this as an example of sloppy Birds of Prey writing, Aaron had the outburst above, which I assured him would see print on the internet immediately.

Thank you for that.

At some point, I swear to high heaven, I will get a regular blogging schedule. In the mean time, thanks to you who have stuck around when I do post (I'm talking to YOU, secret stalker!).

I would like to take this opportunity to sound the SPOILER ALERT!

The Pull List!

Marvel Comics!

Captain America Vol. 1 - The Winter Soldier

This was definately the Marvel comic I was most excited about. It's written by Ed Brubaker who was half of the writing team on the deservingly-gushed-about-by-me Gotham Central. The art is nothing to sneeze at either, with an art Steve Epting rocking the present-day Cap action, and Michael Lark doing pencils on the World War II flashbacks. So with a high-profile team in place, and 17 months of everyone from Aaron at Comicazi to Wizard Magazine telling me it was great, I picked up the trade.

And I could not put it down.

Until I was done reading it, and I haven't picked it up since.

This story was an odd experience for me, someone who reads comics over and over again. It was completely engaging, it had international intrigue, all the Cap "face" characters such as the Red Skull and Sharon Carter, and the action was big without being Ultimates-over-the-top. But for whatever reason, after reading it, I was done with it.

So what, you're asking, didn't work? Well, and I warned you about spoilers, but Ed Brubaker kills the Red Skull at the end of the first issue. The Red Skull is an icon, and a hell of a villain, so his death has little impact on me as a reader because... well, he's coming back. I know it probably won't be Brubaker to do it, but if the villian is really villianous, he cannot die.

I paraphrase from the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game Handbook -

"If your villian dies, there's no body found. If the heroes find the body, then they find a robot. If it's not a robot, then it's a clone. If there's a body, and it's not a clone, and the villian is really dead, then he probably wasn't a very good villian o begin with."

Basically don't expect me to flip my wig when you plug the Red Skull - that crazy Nazi bastard will be back eventually.

Also, the book tries to ret-con some pretty serious stuff in regards to Cap's last mission with Bucky, and does it in an odd way. Instead of simply saying how it was, with Cap saying, "I've never told anyone this before..." or the like, Brubaker has long dormant memories awaken in Captain America by way of the Cosmic Cube... Seriously, the Cosmic Cube made Steve Rogers remember that his young partner was tortured by Baron Zemo before his "death". I think it would have been more interesting to actually show Cap coming to this un-blocking on his own.

So in general this trade did not live up to the considerable hype, and maybe I'll give it another read at some point, but for now if I want Cap, I'll just re-read Geoff Johns' Avengers trades.

Powers #17

I'm going to come clean. Seriously. I have no idea what was happening during the big fight of this book. Walker gets new powers and... wins? Maybe? Against something? I'm not sure. At least it's interesting.

Also, Brian Bendis proves that some of his strongest stuff doesn't need dialog, as we get a glimpse of Deena Pilgrim tempted to take a very bad way out of her current situation.

Ultimate Spider-Man #91 -

Kitty Pryde and Spider-Man are ADORABLE.

Kitty gets a new costume to fight crime with Spidey and not compromise his identity as Peter Parker. This is all good stuff up until we hea back to the X-Mansion and Ultimate Deadpool, a character every bit as unneccessary as Ultimate Moon Knight, rears his ugly head. Hopefully he'll be proven interesting in the next issue?

X-Factor #4 -

This issue closes the book on X-Factor Investigation's first official case, and it's not quite as interesting as the way Layla Miller handles their frist UN-official case.
There's some more Mutant Town stuff in there as well that's interesting - apparently people who used to be mutants are still feared and hated right there with the people still mutants. So Stong Guy and Wolfsbane make it clear that mutant town is a haven for any mutant, past present or future.

And yes, if you were wondering, I do get a check from Marvel every time I say "mutant" this review.


The Pulse #14 -

This issue of The Pulse was the last, and it abandoned the format of a newspaper suppliment that wasn't really working for Bendis, and gave us all what we really wanted - one more issue of Alias.

The story of how Jessica Jones met Luke Cage is incredibly sweet, and one I'm glad we got to hear. It's a quite a bit sweeter than their first meeting in the pages of Alias which was illegal in many, many states. The whole thing is told to little baby Noname Cage-Jones, who remains unnamed by issue's end.

I'm glad that we get more of Luke in New Avengers, but let's hope Jessica doesn't dissapear into the background, as she's one of the few new unique, strong, real characters in the Marvel U.

Next Wave #2 -

Did you ever have a classmate, or a friend, who desperately wanted to be funny? Oh, they'd spout out whatever came into their heads that passed for wit, but more often than not it would simply be an ol' eye-roller? Ladies and gentleman, that friend has a job writing Next Wave.

I do not like this comic.

Everyone else loves it, so I will continue to try and see the good in it, but so far I've been presented with jokes unoriginal (Ha, ha! Machine-Man calls humans "meat-bags!"), and obvious (Look at Fing Fang Foom's pants! They're purple! He's a dragon wearing pants! HILARIOUS!). Outside of one excellent Douglas Adams moment describing human beings as "the Elvis of snack-food" to giant monsters, I was bored.

DC Comics

Jonah Hex #5 -

That ugly cuss Jonah Hex always gets his man, and this issue is no exception. Here is a book that gives you absolutely no reason to wait for the trade - every issue is self-contained, each story great. Keep it up, DC. I swear to god though, if this book jumps forward "One Hundred & Fourty One Years Later" after Infinite Crisis, I will be very irked.

Batman - Year 100 #2 -

In this issue, Batman... does something other than run from Police.

I'll admit that Paul Pope's take on the Dark Knight doesn't have the most original premise, pitting Batman against the police in a dystopian future, his art style is perfect for the gritty, organic world he's creating. In the first, all we got was Batman running away from football uniform clad Police, but in issue #2 we're thankfully given more of a look at this future Batman, his allies and tactics.

There's also a page where this year's Commisoner Gordon is looking at footage and documentation on The Batman from years past. This page, where we see the Thirties Batman and the Seventies Batman as seperate entities, make me wonder if Pope is trying to untangle the twisted timeline of Batman - the costume changes, the tone changes - that Alan Moore and Frank Miller have tackled so sucessfully in The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns. Good luck, Mr. Pope, you're standing in an awfully big shadow.

Green Lantern Corps: Recharge! #5 of 5 -

This mini finishes off with Guy Gardener getting some respect for once! He takes charge in a way that his ego has always told us he could, and thanks to that, the Gaurdians make him a sectorless Green Lantern! It thankfully looks like he and Kilowog will the focus of the upcoming Green Lantern Corps ongoing series that's out in a few months.

While this book is part of regular continuity the publishing schedule kept it out of Infinite Crisis' path - Kyle Rayner is still flying about as a Green Lantern, Oa is still the center of the of the Universe. With Kyle allready converted into Ion, will there be other major changes to Corps members during Crisis?

Y: The Last Man #43 -

This book continues to be fun, thoughtful and unpredictable.

This is the first part of a new story-arc, which means a combination of talking heads about both the plot and whatever fun facts that popped into Brian K. Vaughn's head. Also a great deal more romance, both overt and tragic (Dr. Mann), and subtextual and misguided (355), than we're used to. Kind of a slow issue, but the last page, as usual, keeps you wondering until the next one comes out.

Seven Soldiers: Frankenstien #3 -

Of the three reamaining Seven Soldiers books, this one simultaneously made the least amount of sense and the least to do with the giant crossover that was the point of these miniseries.

This story, entitled The Water!, managed to simultaneously share all the traits of Grant Morrison's best and worst writing. It's fiercely imaginiative, and has that classic feel of the genre he's aping - Frankenstien reads like an old E.C. Horror book on acid - but nothing makes sense outside of the author's head, and nothing inside of the story operates in the parameters of any kind of logic.

Why does the water turn some things into fierce predators and some people into weaklings? It just DOES.

This was a huge problem I had with Morrison's JLA: Rock of Ages story-arc, wherein the Jusice League prevent an apocalyptic future ruled by Darksied from happening by saving a magic rock from destruction. The same magic rock was being used by Lex Luthor to control Jemm (a telepathic alien), and essentially anything else Luthor wanted it to. They never say how it's doing these things, or why it'll prevent Darksied from conquering Earth, it simply does.

These over-powered, story driving plot McGuffins had been kept out of his Seven Soldiers work thus far, a fact which aided my enjoyment of them SIGNIFICANTLY. But when I read this, I was incredibly frustrated.

Doug Mahnke's art is very, very pretty though.

Seven Soldiers: Mr. Miracle #4 -

On the other hand, Morrison shows in Mr. Miracle that he's really the only person who should be alowed to handle Jack Kirby's New Gods. The people of New Genesis as homeless bum-gods, Darksied as basically Ving Rahmes from Pulp Fiction, and a dimension jumping Mr. Miracle still trying to escape his greatest trap.

In the end, it's compelling, complex, and the greatest compliment I can give it is that I stopped thinking about the original Mr. Miracle after a few pages.

Seven Soldiers: The Bulleteer #4 -

The final issue of The Bulleteer managed to really push it over the top for me. Up until now, the story felt secondary to the art and the concept - a woman who's husband turned her into a super-hero to fulfil a sexual fantasy. Issue four is devoted almost entirely to the back-story of her husband's Super-Mistress, and it shines some unpleasent realistic light on Silver Age style stories.

What makes this title work though, is that while everyone around The Bulleteer is absorbed in the DC Universe and super-hero life, she sees the absurdity of theses people's lives. It's very reflexive, with Bulletteer questioning why she even got into costume, and after the big fight super-fight scene, doing what I've never seen a hero do before - asking someone to call an ambulence for the loser.

Infinite Crisis Secret Files -

Well, that cleared things up quite a bit!

Most Secret Files stories are superfluous, and sub-par. Breaking the trend, the Infinite Crisis Secret Files is well written, well drawn, and crucial to understanding the new Crisis for people who aren't familiar with old-school DC. People like me.

This issue is a look at life inside the "paradise" Alexander Luthor built for himself, Lois 2, Superman 2, and Superboy Prime. Superman runs around trying to do nice things for Lois, and we see how much she becomes his entire world after the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, setting up his actions in Infinite Crisis #5. It does the same for Superboy, showing how Luthor basically spent the enitre twenty years stuck there subtley torturing him. He didn't seem too well glued together to begin with, so Luthor messing with his mind makes the Teen Titans fight in #4 a little more believable.

The most important thing DC does with this book is to use Superboy pounding on the walls of reality to excuse any major glitch in DC Continuity (Hawkman's very existance and history for example), or wipe away things they'd rather just forget (Jonah Hex in the future?). I really enjoy when they can explain poor story choices with a cool in-continuity event.

Infinite Crisis #5 -

And here's the big one.

While it's a good issue, it seems to be full of more problems than the other four. Rather than just run down what happened, I'm going to ask some spoilerific questions, and leave it up to you to answer -

I know asking questions about time travel is simply asking for trouble, but...

Booster Gold comes from the future with knowledge of the events of Crisis. Why isn't he able to do more? Why doesn't he foresee Superboy Prime breaking out of the speed-force at the end of this issue? Instead he comes in and says, "I know of one of your failings, and I am here to prevent it!" And how does he prevent it? With the new Blue Beetle! He's supposedly the only one who can see the Brother I sattelite, but they don't explain why. My speculation: Blue Beetle is the only new hero to emerge since Max Lord had control of Checkmate, so Brother I doesn't know how to hide from him. We'll see if there's another explaination - for now, his costume looks still looks damn cool.

We reach my biggest problem with Infinite Crisis #5 - Pretty much everything with Wonder Woman.

In the last few pages of Wonder Woman's previous series, she sees a riot in Boston, and comes down to the people throwing bricks. There she asks them if this is how they would want to be remembered, and inspires them to put down their weapons and help put out the fires. She puts hope and awe in them, and they become better for it. The whole crux of Wonder Woman in two pages.

In Infinite Crisis #5, we see the same scene, the same riot, but this time, in a completely different set of events, Wonder Woman looses her temper and engages these regular people in a fight. These actions were so incredibly out of character for her, even considering the crisis. That aside for a moment, before a violent Wonder Woman thrashes more powerless people about, Earth 2 Wonder Woman returns from Olympus.

(For sanity's sake, from here on out, our Wonder Woman will be refered to as Diana.)

She said that her husband, Steve Trevor, died using her last bit of power teleporting Wonder Woman to Earth. After a brief talk where Diana is told by her older counterpart that she needs to go to Superman, Earth 2 Wondery Woman does for Diana what Steve Trevor did for her, dissapearing into the aether to send Diana across the barrier to Earth 2.

My question is this: Why does Wonder Woman have to sacrifice herself to teleport Diana to Earth 2 when our Superman simply FLEW there ten pages earlier?

For that matter, in a book that's re-defining the roles and attitudes of the "Big Three" in the DCU, Wonder Woman is written as increasingly blood-thristy. When she does finally come around towards the Diana we know, her purpose seems only to serve Superman's character, something I firmly object to. Geoff Johns is doing a great job serving some of these characters, especially Batman, but Wonder Woman is getting the short end of the icon-stick by my read.

There was a lot of things I did like, but I was so put off by this that I felt let down. The good stuff is the Superman fight on an empty Earth 2 - Jerry Ordway does a great Action Comics #1 homage there, and there's a bit about how all the new post-C.o.I.E. characters would have been from Earth 8 had the multiverse lived on. I think when the next two issues come out, this will have been the lull before the true chaos, so let's hope it all pays off in the end.

Teen Titans Annual '06 + Teen Titans #33 -

The annual was was absurdly delayed. A Valentine's Day issue, it came out last wednesday, after Teen Titans #33 came out. Since most of the events lead into #33, a good deal of this stuff was given already given away.

In the Annual, we get to see Tim Drake - Robin - really come into his own as a leader of the Teen Titans, something that bodes poorly for Cyborg's odds of making it out of Crisis. He and most of the other Titans are helping relief effort after Chemo is dropped on Bludhaven, and even Superman gives Tim the thumbs up to lead the clean-up.

Back in Smallville, things get a little too TV's Smallville, with a recovering Conner and a de-powered Wonder Girl. I really enjoy this pairing, it always made sense to me that the two Titans who felt so overshadowed by their mentors would get together. In this issue, however, they sleep together, and the Kents are suprisingly mellow about it. Superboy answers a call to Titan's tower from Nightwing, and leaves Wonder Girl behind. In #33 we learn that after Conner leaves, Wonder Girl strikes a deal with Ares to regain her powers... how they might change because of this is still a mystery.

Most of the rest of this issue is spent doing the dueling caption box thoughts of Superboy and Nightwing as they make their way towards Alexander Luthor's lair in the arctic. Nightwing is an odd match for Superboy who spends most of his time with, well, Robin. He even points out at one point that it's like "hanging out with your friend's older brother." This is basically to flesh out Conner more before his big showdown in Infinite Crisis #6, and they do a pretty good job. I've been shown more depth to this character in the past two years in Teen Titans than in the entirety of his own series. This could just be to kill him, though. DC is mean like that.

All in all, these were the best two issues of Teen Titans we've gotten in a long while. The next issue is One Year Later, so who knows what's happening or even who's still alive to fill the team's roster.

That's it for me. I'm pooped. I'm so tired, I'm going to go read some comics.

Did I mention that I like comics?

Thanks for reading.

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