Sunday, May 25, 2008

#169. Weekly No. 91

PBR's Weekly

No. 89ii

This is the second week of the self-imposed exile from Paperback Reader for this column and this writer, now being hosted by my own long-running but seldom-updated blog. Last week’s edition was about as stripped-down as I could have made it, but I can’t do that again because this past week was too rich for such treatment. Of course, in expanding it I might as well post the column back at PBR, but I could expect the same kind of readership here as there, and that has been as much the issue as anything I’ve let under my skin, so no real difference except a slightly more professional layout there (unless you count the irritation of the programming updates there causing me formatting issues that don’t exist here), plus a slightly better chance at feedback here, despite a promise of that returning over there, now like other matters stretching on a bit. Still, I remain grateful to Bart for giving me the opportunity to write this column and the occasional review, and because he has been the only source of interest in my writing, if I choose to, I will probably end up back at PBR anyway, despite lingering issues.

Much to my glee, the two back-issues I placed on order at Heroes and Dragons arrived this week, along with an embarrassing glut of riches in regular releases, effectively putting a halt to my attempts at slowing down the pace of my reading. At work, the manga and graphic novels were relocated, adding the general sense of festivity in this area of my life, even though those who made the shift happen paid a fair bit less attention to the details than my friend Daniel did when he affected the comics shift a few months back on his own initiative (thanks to him, too, in inviting me to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with the boys on Thursday, capping off the visit to Heroes and buying the WrestleMania XXIV DVD, which as of this writing I‘ve now had the chance to finish watching; some of the MVP performances over the course of those two days are obvious, but JBL at the Hall of Fame ceremony only cements his status as a Wrestling God). Oh, and on the same day, I registered to vote in Colorado, remaining proudly Unaffiliated (apparently, Independent really has become Green Party).

Week of May 21, 2008

QB ~Action Comics #11 (DC) Having missed it at my usual Heroes location on original release, saw it at the other site a few days later, and passed up the seeming second chance, I was happy that my first instance of placing a book (along with the next comic) on re-order with the store turned out so well (and so promptly!). The long-awaited conclusion of the Geoff Johns/Richard Donner/Adam Kubert “Last Son” arc with General Zod, it’d been so long, I honestly couldn’t remember very much of how the story had ended off however many months ago, but the issue more than reminded of why I fell in love with the team of Johns and Donner, the latter clearly vicariously living through a sort of fulfillment of his aborted cinematic vision, since the former would continue on with several more stories on the title alone, even if the last of them to this point, Superman and the Legion, didn’t finish its vision as strongly as is presented here. The Zod/Christopher Kent drama ends up playing a backseat to a reaffirmation of what makes Superman so super, the kind of story you wish everyone who ever doubts why he’s still being featured in a monthly series after so many decades would read. Maybe the publishing schedule as it ended up being with this story didn’t help its chances of doing that job of convincing the skeptics, but now that it’s complete, “Last Son” stands as only the tip of an iceberg that remains ready to radically represent the continuing saga of the Man of Steel in the modern era, even as it takes back one element it gave us, if temporarily, even as James Robinson is poised to debut in the other ongoing title. We’re in for some great comics, Superman.

QB ~DC Universe 0 (DC) Now, now I’ve finally gotten a chance to see this (the clerk evidently hadn’t seen it either, and even Tim seemed surprised to have been able to get it for me when he called), and can reinterpret the criticism I’d found when looking for reactions a few weeks back. Those readers found it to be a terrible starting point for new readers, evidently the self-presumed audience. What I found was a preview book that took ominous glances at some things readers already knew and other looks at characters whose importance hasn’t properly been understood or introduced in some time. Batman and Joker shared a conversation readers of Salvation Run won’t get, but those of Grant Morrison’s Batman will, or even fans of Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Dark Knight (it hasn’t come out yet; they already exist). Wonder Woman, who a few years back had finally, truly earned her place in the Big Three but has since all but collapsed in a gradually decaying swap meet of creators, is repositioned. The Spectre (we’ll pretend Morrison and Johns aren’t aware of Countdown to Mystery) is poised for big things. Even the “Rainbow Corps” concept from Johns’ Green Lantern is teased. New readers shouldn’t and won’t get most of this. But if they find nothing intriguing, then they’re a dead audience already. The narrator’s identity and ultimate purpose aren’t promised to be one and the same, but his role may be the best of the book, as it should be. This is the starting point of a race. Let the best runner get the head start. The book best stands as the timer; it’s not a part of the competition but it damn sure is going to be a part of the history books, marking the exact moment everything changed, exactly as Countdown to Infinite Crisis did when Ted Kord was shot through the head. This time, Barry Allen becomes a significant player again, whatever that ultimately means. So sue me for liking it. I’m not a groupie. I just know what reads like a million dollars.

~Scud the Disposable Assassin #24 (Image) Apparently a long-awaited conclusion all its own, Rob Schrab’s cult favorite hits shelves a final time. While I was never what you could call an actual reader of the series, I was well aware of its novelty back in the day, the charm of a robotic hitman programmed to self-destruct on completion of its mission realizing there may be a reason to live. This issue is a primer in what Scud meant to his creator thanks to a concluding interview conducted with a friend, so I get what happened with the character. What I don’t understand is why the potential I saw in Scud all those years ago seems to have been wasted. Maybe this comes from someone who didn’t read the previous twenty-three issues, but it just feels like the concept was lost along the way in favor of quirks that popped up, other characters, even other concepts concerning what made Scud’s life worth living. In a way, I lament that, or at least regret missing out on what happened previous to this final issue. It’s just one of those things where I end up knowing why I should care, but don’t anyway, and that’s always frustrating.

QB ~Hercules #1 (of 5) (Radical) A new publisher picks a character currently undergoing a revolution on another company’s watch (and in the same week!), and the surprise is, this second modern take is also well worth reading! This one’s set to an era more contemporary to the traditional version of Hercules, but with the same kind of latter-day world-weary perspective as Marvel’s. I love pleasant surprises like this. The publisher itself seems dedicated to replicating the feel evident here with each of its other titles, which it will be rolling out soon, which makes the issue not just a promising debut for a series, but for an entire company.

QB ~Countdown to Mystery #8 (of 8) (DC) As Matt Sturges wraps up his tale of Eclipso and Spectre, the final installment of the late Steve Gerber’s Doctor Fate saga has a unique fate all its own. Last issue, Adam Beechen had the stage all to himself, but he shares the conclusion with three other writers, each giving their own interpretation to the notes Gerber no doubt left behind. Beechen’s version comes first and in its way and perhaps placement, feels most official (possibly because he alone retains original artist, Stephen Jorge Segovia, on whom I have not heaped enough praise). Mark Evanier and Mark Waid follow with their own versions, and finally Gail Simone concludes the festivities, offering as an endnote a poignant tribute to Gerber himself, who once made her feel better about being exactly the kind of outsider Gerber and his whole story had been about. The exercise, far from feeling gimmicky, is a worthy conclusion not only to the spirit of the story itself, but to Gerber as well. A few months back, I expressed a certain amount of guilt that it took Gerber’s death to make me read this mini-series again, but it’s a feeling DC should be feeling instead, since originally, the whole “Helmet of Fate” project that led to Gerber’s half of this book was meant to be a new ongoing series for Fate. In atonement, the company ought to finally make that series a reality. They’ve already booked four writers who share the right spirit for such a project. There are others. It’s possible. And we still owe Gerber so much.

~Captain America #38 (Marvel) Clearly, Ed Brubaker is a student of Cap’s past, because as it turns out, the “Steve Rogers” he’d been teasing for the past few months not only turns out to be someone else, but also a continuation of a seemingly random single issue adventure from way back in the first year of this run. I feel cheated, in a way, not because Brubaker once again proves how methodically he plans his stories and ahead of the reader he’s able to keep himself, but because of how deliberately he misled his readers. Maybe there were some, like during Countdown when Paul Dini and his co-writers were teasing certain members of the Jack Kirby pantheon, who suspected immediately what was really going on, based on certain physical attributes of the man we were seeing, but as I read this issue, I never once felt the same sensation I did when Brubaker was unraveling the mystery of Bucky’s return during that same first year of the book. I’m not saying I’ve returned to the skeptical nature of my sporadic reading that began soon after that year was completed. If anything, in every other way recent issues have better delivered on the initial promise of this run than even those issues themselves. But, c’mon Brubaker. In other titles you’ve proven a distinct lack of control over your own impulses, even though your brilliance is always on display. Please say you can still salvage this arc. Your penchant for realism can still be betrayed. Don’t give in, because when you do, you invariably end up failing. And you’re too good for that.

QB ~The Brave and the Bold #13 (DC) At some point, I’m pretty sure Mark Waid’s leaving the series, so any further issues past his original twelve-episode arc is a blessing. Here, he teams original Flash Jay Garrick with Batman to weave a standalone adventure that probes deeper into both characters than most other writers would, or could, dare in such a seemingly throwaway issue, and that’s both what I’ve loved about this series and about Mark’s obvious passion for DC’s characters, both famous and obscure.

~The Flash #240 (DC) Remember what I was saying last issue? That I was on the verge of quitting one of my favorite heroes? Well, Tom Peyer ups his game this month, pulling all the right strings (much as Bilson and DeMeo were doing when their run came to a close), even paying off on story elements Mark Waid left behind to ensure future issues have the essential character weight that has made Flash’s adventures worth coming back to for so long. Plus, elements of Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis are woven into the issue, familiar both from last week’s Sketchbook and Morrison’s Mister Miracle from his epic Seven Soldiers project (if readers need incentive to rediscover that, now they have it).

~Titans #2 (DC) Better than the first issue, but plagued with art that only solidifies the theory that DC put this book together because modern fans of this particular team of Titans are more influenced by the cartoon series than the Marv Wolfman era (which itself inspired the cartoon…), the best reason for me to support this particular installment ended up being the appearance of Argent from the Dan Jurgens Titans, who coincidentally was a member of the team Devin K. Grayson put together the last time the company put a book out under this specific title. Oh! And on the back of current DC books is an ad for Vampirates! Random knowledge and glorious combinations abound!

~Justice League of America #21 (DC) Reminiscent of the “Crisis of Conscience” arc from the previous JLA series that latched onto Identity Crisis a few years back, this issue is dedicated to Libra and DC’s theory that his appearance is significant enough to pretend it’s a better selling point that good writing and the fact that the reader is already reading the Justice League, which in itself should already be incentive enough. But in reality, in either incarnation, you can’t always expect the best, even though that’s the promise and sometimes the delivery, so the gimmick of a “Sightings” tag is necessary, even though, in this issue, all the perfectly obvious implications are met as they should be. Dwayne McDuffie has definitely settled in at this point, enough to pull the Big Three aside for the kind of conversation Brad Meltzer built his initial issues around, at least for a few pages. Otherwise, it’s Libra being Libra, plus Human Torch plotting bad things for Martian Manhunter. Carlos Pacheco, meanwhile, officially joins the ranks of artists fully worthy of doing the Justice League.

QB ~Justice Society of America #15 (DC) I’m pretty sure “Thy Kingdom Come” concludes this issue, at least to segue to another chapter of the same story, as Gog helps the Society and Geoff Johns continue perhaps the most important story DC is publishing not being written by Grant Morrison. Heck, let’s not make it an argument. What may be an argument is that Johns is doing work here that is, at least at this point, more important than Final Crisis, but in a regular, ongoing, shockingly self-contained book, employing a mythology begun more than ten years ago which is still unfolding. Magog may have been introduced in 1996, but he’s is destined to become the most important new addition to DC lore perhaps in decades. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

~Robin #174 (DC) Okay, this time, I haven’t jumped the gun. This time, it’s really a new issue, and it’s one of the most important issues of this series in a long, long time. The secret of the Spoiler is revealed. It’s Chuck Dixon getting his Ed Brubaker on. And yeah, it’s a great moment to be reading, for a creator to have come back to one of his most famous haunts. It could also have been more. It may not be Chuck’s fault. Unlike Brubaker’s shot at resurrection, DC’s been quietly hyping this for a while, putting up ads, letting the DC Nation column talk it up, all while keeping it mostly self-contained (Gotham Underground also featured Spoiler), as Brubaker had the luxury of doing. But Tim had gotten so impatient, he spoiled the moment, in effect. Maybe DC’s got the best moments of this story saved for a later issue, even the upcoming Robin/Spoiler Special. Maybe this just means the series is returning to the kind of issues Adam Beechen was pulling off in the immediate wake of One Year Later, when he had the run of Batgirl all to himself, or when Batman was trying to handle the death of Jason Todd twenty years ago. Maybe it’s safe to read this book as a serialized story again, like Dixon was doing when the series launched. That’s what I’m hoping. Hey, he even brought the Redbird back!

QB ~Tangent: Superman’s Reign #3 (of 12) (Tangent/DC) Dan Jurgens continues his superior event, the Tangent return engagement that revels in exploring a new alternate look at familiar names in unfamiliar roles, the modern age embracing the birth of the silver age all over again (just because it’s most popular to stick with golden age nostalgia these days, doesn’t mean you have to). Unlike other comics of this nature, which even when they start off strong they start to taper off by refusing to continue the actual story soon enough, the Tangent Superman appears this issue, upping the ante by continuing the unflinching look at what this other world has been up to and where it’s going. It’s very much like a Grant Morrison comic in that way, or even Young Avengers, significant stories being told just below the mainstream model, or rather, just above, daring to continue those stories not just because they can, but because it’s a built-in imperative.

QB ~The Incredible Hercules #117 (Marvel) Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, meanwhile, must have also siphoned some of the Morrison Moxie (if you’ve never had Moxie, you’ve never truly had a carbonated drink), because now they’re blasting off at reckless speeds with mythologies they only half expect readers to keep up with, creating a God Squad around Herc and his pal Amadeus Cho (they didn’t go with my suggestion for the dog’s name after all, but Coyote’s not bad) based on a necessary tie-in with Secret Invasion that only affirms my obsession with this series and faith that it can pull anything off. Even with characters coming in left and right, sporting names I’ll never be able to remember, this book remains addictively readable, one of the best ongoing series on the market.

~House of Mystery #1 (Vertigo) The dynamic duo of Matt Sturges and Bill Willingham resurrect the House of Mystery for a series they describe in Vertigo’s own “On the Edge” column as a destination for writerly pleasures and pursuits, letting loose in still more bold strokes than has been possible in books like Shadowpact and the Fables franchise, and that’s exactly what I love about them. In an era that is willing to embrace every eccentric id, they’re fast establishing themselves as leading contenders for the crown. I’m not giving this one a QB for the sole reason that I won’t pretend this one’s for everyone, but for those up to it, this is going to be another wild ride.


QB is an indication for a must-read.


THE EIDOLON NEVER HAD A GHOST OF A CHANCE ~ Read The Cloak of Shrouded Men, an original work of prose heroic fiction, now with its very own Borders binc!

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