Sunday, June 29, 2008

#176. Guster, Coldplay, Thrice, How I Met Your Mother, WrestleMania XXIV

First, a couple bits:

One, I'm am obsessed with Guster's Ganging Up on the Sun, Coldplay's Viva la Vida, and still working on the Thrice catalogue, which now includes the complete Alchemy Index. Also, still attempting to help How I Met Your Mother take over the world.

Two, my column as of tomorrow is back at Paperback Reader.

Okay! Now let's talk wrestling! Watched WrestleMania XXIV again over vacation. The Money in the Bank Ladder Match came off better, which I was pleasantly surprised to discover. Flair-Michaels still the obvious highlight, though. Of course, the big news round WWE these days is the 2008 Draft, which to my mind was the company's way of positioning Smackdown for its transition from the CW to MyTV this fall, and not so much any real need fans have been whining about for years now to even out the brands. Triple H being traded to the blue squad was the culmination of Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho both appearing on Friday nights earlier this year, the first time either had been on the show in half a dozen years Triple H, who famously had avoided during at least one draft switching brands, is now at a point in his career where he literally doesn't have to carry either brand on his back, but now it's just fun to have him play at it again. On the flipside, Batista heading back to Raw with Rey Misterio in tow is another significant development. On the whole, the Draft was a terrific move, and the timing was even more brilliant, the next logical step from what happened in 2005, when both heavyweight champions swapped over. This time it's before a PPV (Night of Champions), so it literally leaves hanging in the air which championship will end up on each show. One of Smackdown's Big Gold Belts will lose tonight. Which one?

And then the new brand alignments will get to enjoy their new situations, and the fun will really begin.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

#175. Weekly No. 94

PBR’s Weekly

No. 89v

This week I actually passed on a number of titles I’ve been reading recently, and still ended up with another gargantuan pile of comics. Wonder Woman has become all but unreadable under the current regime, which is a downright shame considering all the momentum the character has built over the last few years. What the Amazon needs is one definitive, genius creator, not unlike a Grant Morrison (Batman) or Geoff Johns (Action Comics), to be given the chance to not only define where she’s been but where she’s headed and what she represents, which has never been enough to simply state: she’s the female of the Big Three. She’s always been more, and she’s destined to be more. It’s just, no writer seems willing to embrace her potential as anything but something that needs to be propped up with whatever trappings she’s been given and what she means for DC and comics in general. She may even be written well now, but it’s become increasingly meaningless, which is the trap she’s constantly condemned to. I also skipped out on the latest Green Arrow and Black Canary, because it’s become the very thing Oliver Queen should never be: a story that doesn’t need Green Arrow to be told. We’re talking about one of the most opinionated, alienating characters in comics, and DC created yet another new series for him, demonstrating that he’s got more room to grow by finally marrying Black Canary, than perhaps any other character in its roster. And yet, all his series does is stagnate. Finally, I also have officially quit Titans after two issues. The art is probably the biggest killer, but once again, the storytelling just seems like it’s just there to be there. Both series are currently under the auspices of Judd Winick, but this must not be seen as a criticism of Winick so much as projects he’s either outgrown or clearly not suited for at this time. The man knocked The Trials of Shazam! out of the park, and was the main reason why the reboot of the Outsiders was such a terrible idea, because his team was exactly what the Outsiders should be, not just a book that for no particular reason other than DC making Batman their Wolverine and “needing” him to return the team to its roots.

But there’s plenty of good news as well.

Week of June 11, 2008

~Captain Britain and MI13 #2 (Marvel) I’m still not quite ready to bestow QB status to this book, but it’s still an inexplicably smart move on Marvel’s part to capitalize on a mandated story to launch an established character in an imaginative and thrilling new direction (read: Incredible Hercules. No, really.). The book actually owes its existence to a short-lived interest on the part of the company to match DC’s recent expansion into exploiting every level of its universe, because, ostensibly, the British heroes featured in the book are protecting magic from the invading Skrull horde. In reality, this plot is nothing more than one of the elements Paul Cornell is so exquisitely spinning around a bunch of characters that by all rights shouldn’t be entertaining me at all. I mean, aside from a brief flirtation a few years ago in reading Chris Claremont’s Excalibur (believe me, whatever superficial connections may be made between these books, there’s no comparison in long-term appeal), I knew Marvel’s British creations pretty much by reputation only, and even the guys I do know are paired with characters that were either created for this series or pretty much were anyway because of their obscurity. But Cornell helps the characters rise above these limitations by doing the one thing most writers are actually afraid of: combining them with stories with momentum behind them, so that a story may accurately be called a story and not just a plot that fills out an issue. By next issue, I’ll be ready to bestow iconic status on them all…

~The Magdalena/Daredevil #1 (Top Cow) I know, the clerk was confused, too. I mean, why am I reading this? I know, I know, I was following Daredevil for about the past year, but I’ve almost never read a Top Cow ever, not even when Ron Marz started doing Witchblade, or when some dude named Phil Hester took on The Darkness. That guy is the reason I bought this one. Hester isn’t doing the art with Darkness, just writing, which isn’t itself a bad thing, because he’s one of the rare (and in an inspiring creator point of view, incredibly enviable) breed that’s a double threat in the truest sense of the word (though at this point entirely unrecognized by the wider comics community). In fact, I don’t read his Darkness because the artist he’s paired with is pretty much the opposite of everything Phil stands for: distinctive, artistic integrity. Anyway, just as I support him whenever I can when he’s working on a Desperado project I can manage to get my hands on, he does writing and art on this one, pairing one of those characters I’d previously assumed to be one of those generic Top Cow Art (read: Female Form) First creations with Daredevil. Turns out, Magdalena is probably worth tons more than I gave her credit for, certainly timely in these Dan Brown times, and the pairing is worth reading not only for the distinct perspectives Phil gives both heroes, but how they eventually, perfectly naturally, fight together in a story that could basically have served as a b-plot in Phil’s “Quiver” story with Kevin Smith in Green Arrow. (For the record, his art was also a highlight of Devin K. Grayson’s final issues on Nightwing.)

QB ~Booster Gold #10 (DC) Any further doubts one may have had (read: me) about the worth of this series were erased this issue, as the basic elements established in the premise (and origin) in 52 are perfectly exploited yet again, and perhaps in the best way yet, this issue, as the Ted Kord arc winds up in dramatic fashion. Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz are also promoting an incredible standard for the series in that this issue also counts as a direct continuation of the first issue, making for a far more serialized adventure than is usually found in comics, where shorter arcs (of considerably less disciplined planning) and single issues dominate even in an era constantly criticized for exploiting crossovers. Booster Gold is also setting a standard for superhero storytelling in a solo title, featuring an ensemble but a definite main character, which the creators have known so thoroughly that next issue they’re retroactively participating in their second crossover event (after the zero issue) with the underrated DC One Million (from the mind of Grant Morrison, no less) making a return engagement. Last time I was still being the skeptic, so I didn’t appreciate like I should have. I won’t be making that mistake again. He’s never going to be in the league of Superman, Batman, or even Green Lantern, but Booster’s fast embracing his new slogan of being the greatest hero you’ve never heard of!

QB ~Batman #677 (DC) It’s almost embarrassing to constantly be namechecking creators earlier in the column, and then coming to a title they’re actually writing. It’s not planned. It’s not propaganda. It’s just synergy. Grant Morrison is still knocking them out of the park. Everything I’ve been saying about his run on this title is once again affirmed as his epic “Batman R.I.P.” continues in the way only he can, by confirming the legend by tearing it apart. Questions are raised not only about the true natures of Bruce Wayne’s beloved parents but his faithful butler Alfred as well. His own quest is all but ridiculed by his current love. And his enemy’s plans seem to be falling into place perfectly, just as the Dark Knight himself predicted. You might call this “Knightfall” 2.0, but this time, there’s no cheating. The foe may not be calculated so perfectly as his opposite, but this time, Batman’s future, his mythos, are being torn apart once again, like never before. As only Grant Morrison can do it.

~Eternals #1 (Marvel) Neil Gaiman couldn’t do it. But Daniel Acuña can. The artist I crowned in the original QB awards two years ago, he originally made his mark on DC covers and in the pages of The Battle for Blüdhaven and first Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters mini-series. Now across town, he’s elevated a Jack Kirby concept along with writing brothers Charles & Daniel Knauf to the point where its essential value can be appreciated, a desperate struggle between classic Marvel warring factions fixated on a number of intriguing characters. Acuña’s great ability is to take what has become a clichéd art style (painterly) and elevate it to a distinctive, evocative form that embraces classic comic book values of capturing an essence of over a realistic form. Somehow, once again, it has found a perfect home in the Eternals.

~Salvation Run #7 (of 7) (DC) Now that Grant’s put the villains under auspices of Libra, someone must have figured it was high time I got to read how they got off that Parademon training planet. Truth be told, I had gotten pretty tired of this book early on, a combination of a good concept turned bad pretty quickly, reduced to an improbable and should-have-been impossible showdown between Lex Luthor and the Joker. The conclusion, however, turns out much to the credit of the concept, mostly because it finally allows Luthor to shine as only he can, and for a few stray commentaries that justify what’s gone down in the series. The final page is pretty ominous for Martian Manhunter, even more in the hindsight knowledge of how prophetic it is, though it leaves little room for explaining just how he would’ve gotten from that point to what happened in Final Crisis #1.

~Contract #0 (First Salvo) A twenty-five cent, black and white preview, this was a pleasant surprise from an upstart company that seems to be taking on the old Image challenge of employing a bunch of artists (among them, Yvel Guichet from Drew Melbourne’s ArchEnemies). The series pivots around a fairly standard yet entertaining set of bounty hunters, which is good enough for me to consider giving it a thumbs up for future prospects.

QB ~Action Comics #866 (DC) The cover sports one of those spiffy new “Sightings” banners, but unlike the recent Justice League of America, it’s considerably less obvious about what DC thinks we should be paying attention to, unless it’s Brainiac himself. Anyway, Geoff Johns knocks another opening issue for a new arc out of the park, setting up a return engagement with an old foe so that it feels like the story is really going to mean something, both in terms of the story itself and how it’s going to impact Superman mythology in general, because Johns nails the whole “context” issue with a look into Brainiac’s past and strong hints about further revelations to come. This is literally textbook work on what to do with established characters. For good measure, he also gives the staff of the Daily Planet more serious material than it has probably received in a decade, feeling like a reboot only because of that fact (last decade this element would have felt unnecessary and probably condescending, but now, not so much).

QB ~Green Lantern Corps #25 (DC) Okay, speaking about the whole continuity thing, Peter Tomasi, whom I’ve been giving a hard time to in Nightwing, proves an able student of the game in this latest issue of DC’s biggest hidden treasure (although at times, the whole Sinestro Corps War seemed like an excuse to try and clear that up). He does it by exploding the story of the Black Mercy parasite Mongul and his son have so happily exploited over the years. Like discovering Mogo for the first time, this issue is an invaluable example of the kind of story the space-faring Corps behind Green Lantern is capable of telling, almost making every other interstellar effort DC seems intent on producing entirely irrelevant. Plus, the other great thing about the issue is that Patrick Gleason is back on art. The dude should be synonymous with this series, but incredibly, he doesn’t do every issue. So savor him whenever he’s here.

~Gotham Underground #9 (of 9) (DC) The other long-running mini-series I’ve been following from DC happens to have its final issue on shelves during the same week. And just like Salvation Run, I’ve almost been following Gotham Underground reluctantly, because the good stuff that’s drawn me to it has not always been there. Still, I remained more hopeful for this one from month to month, mostly because its charms have been more evident. The concluding issue from the distinctive team of Frank Tieri and J. Calafiore hits all the best notes of the series, focusing on history and character, in the form of the Penguin, who hasn’t always been the obvious lead character, but as of this issue, really should have been. As he prepares to deal with the ramifications of everything that has gone before, neatly summarized throughout the story, Penguin represents the kind of long-standing character in DC that is fortunate enough to have grown, and Gotham Underground becomes his historic forum to grow still further, as Riddler has before him. I perhaps shouldn’t spoil whatever exactly becomes of him, but rest assured, it’s perfectly befitting and satisfying.

QB ~Simon Dark #9 (DC) As I’ve been ruminating recently on the fortunes of recent series launches from DC, I didn’t realize what it takes sometimes for them to stick around, even when they best deserve to. At the DC forums, where I had been attempting to gage what other readers have been thinking about Wonder Woman and Green Arrow & Black Canary, I discovered, for example, that Blue Beetle in fact has terrible numbers countered only by support within DC itself to stick around (and good trade numbers). (That, and Chuck Dixon’s return to Robin will be as short-lived as Mark Waid’s on Flash). All of which is to say, I have no illusion that Simon Dark is going to be around for a long time to come. Steve Niles may be doing brilliant work, but the days were numbered from the start. Best not to pretend otherwise. Still, that’s no reason to skip out on it while it lasts, because it’s still unlike anything else you will find in the comics market today. I have to apologize to artist Scott Hampton, because I have not as often praised what can only be described as an appropriately gothic version of the kind of realism Steve Epting has been doing in Captain America, keeping the series on the same foreboding edge Niles has sustained since the first issue. As with a number of these other recent launches (Booster Gold, Infinity Inc.), the next issue is being billed as a culmination against forces that have been plaguing our hero from the start. In this case, it cannot feel anything but the same kind of bizarre sense of comic relief that comes from every development in the series, as Simon’s conspiratorial foes build on their own sense of achievement while Simon and his allies whittle further away at their power.

~Trinity #2 (DC) Okay, not a whiz-bang follow-up, but not a disappointment, either. A year-long series must be nothing if not methodical, so every week has to take its time, measure its shots. In this instance, the developments from the first issue merge in the first half of the book while the second half confirms what I’d suspected last week, that it takes a look at a side story, which in this instance involves John Stewart battling a pair of eccentric foes that will no doubt have greater meaning in future issues. The best part of the issue happens to be one of its most throwaway elements, as well as stark contrast to how Wonder Woman is being viewed in her own series. The Big Three are all confronted with challenges, yet the Amazon is the only one to take it on as a chance to further her own recreational objectives. It makes more sense to read it yourself, as well as enjoy how Kurt Busiek accomplishes the rare feat of making a story title both fairly self-explanatory as well as satisfying once you see that explanation play out. It’s storytelling flair, and that’s what can best be described as the heart of this third weekly series.

QB ~The Twelve #6 (of 12) (Marvel) Now having reached the halfway point, J. Michael Straczynski is challenged to start the push from mere novelty to the epic he has been promising from the start, and he chooses as his focal point the perfect moment and opportunity to explore the tragic nature of one of his best characters, Rockman, whose story becomes still more tragic, and all the more emblematic of the group he’s found himself in. By now we’re perfectly familiar with the fact that these time-lost heroes have a difficult time adjusting to the fact that the future isn’t what they thought it’d be, anymore than their pasts have ever made their lives easy for them. Yet now, Straczynski begins his subtle shift back to what he first hinted in the first issue, that hardship in their continuing lack of fortune is only going to complicate things further. The decisions they make continue to seem like simple ones, but the ramifications are always the key. All of which only makes the final page more ominous. In a time when we’re all anticipating the Watchmen movie, it’s appropriate that a direct descendent is enjoying such a terrific push to immortality.


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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

#174. Weekly No. 93

PBR’s Weekly

No. 89iv

Fourth week, even though DC’s new weekly series has begun (and I’d secretly conspired to return the column back home at Paperback Reader in time for it), I’m still in ‘exile,’ partly because nobody seems to miss me there, partly because I still seem to have the motivation to write the column, even though I have no ‘official’ reason to. That’s a month at this point, right? It seems weird. And just a few months ago, I relaunched the column with the new name and everything was going smoothly. I consider this period not so much one of turmoil but a testing ground I never had when I started the Quarter Bin back in July of 2006. Everything was an improvisation, complicated by the fact that I started out at PBR as a reviewer, and stuck around pulling double duty to a significant degree for at least the first year, when I had 52 fueling my interests so feverishly. Gradually, the column format changed, until just around the time I moved from Burlington to Colorado Springs, when it became primarily a home for reviews rather than whatever discussion topic that had clearly never worked I thought up week to week. At least with the comics themselves, I never had to convince myself I was writing for any other purpose than to detail my ongoing comics experience as a vital and interested fan of the medium, a forum to express a point of view that’s easily lost in the rush to pick apart new stories and old characters, as you will typically find elsewhere, to be free from the trends and the fads that distort what comics truly have to offer. As its gimmick, Weekly has only my visits to the local shop, Heroes and Dragons, where I pick out the books that look interesting (or are sometimes just plain worth writing about, which is the only corruption I can truly blame this new career for) or have already proven themselves to be among the best literature, illustrated or otherwise, being published today. It’s why I stick around to read, and why I continue to write.

Week of June 4, 2008

QB ~Justice Society of America #16 (DC) Some books seem like they come out more frequently than others, whether because the publisher is actually monkeying around or because they’re so good the anticipation from issue to issue bridges whatever gap in time exists, whether it’s a weekly or a monthly series. This is one of those books. Geoff Johns continues to prove he’s the best possible collaborator for Alex Ross (or at the very least, successor to Mark Waid) as the second phase of their sequel to Kingdom Come kicks off. While I’m not crazy about what he actually looks like (and am at a loss to find some witty metaphor for just how loony it is), Gog (the one true Gog!) is every bit the perfect culmination of the work the team has been doing since the first issue of “Thy Kingdom Come” as well as a worthy use of Johns’ approach to the JSA as a team primarily concerned not with action (there’s plenty of that, too, but it never seems as if that’s the whole point, which you’ll find in the more misguided superhero stories), but with the mechanics of a world where the JSA exists as an everyday reality. Of course, built-in to this incarnation is the notion that the JSA today exists as much to cultivate new heroes as to extend its own legacy, but the fact is, no other book I can think of considers taking their characters seriously as seriously as this one consistently does. There’ve been times this has become the obvious detriment it would seem to be for readers who’ve never bought an issue, but for the most part, and certainly for most of say, the last year of this book, the execution has been off the charts, with the focus so finely tuned you could easily take this one series as the only book in DC that you need to read to know what’s going to matter tomorrow.

QB ~Robin/Spoiler Special #1 (DC) Even being a suspicious reader of the regular Robin book since Chuck Dixon returned to the fold, I eagerly anticipated this one-shot, hoping it would do what Chuck seemed so reluctant to in the last regular issue, deliver the big bang of the whole Spoiler Returns saga, not just the big reveal but the juicy backstory that was going to make everything worth it. Turns out, he’s more interested in getting the chemistry rolling again, like nothing ever happened (though things clearly did, when I wasn’t reading Tim’s adventures a few years ago; Stephanie actually replaced him as Robin and was pretty much killed right off as thanks). And you know what? It’s not really such a bad thing. Robin as an individual entity within the Batman mythos has undergone such drastic changes over the past two decades it’s been a little difficult to remember the plain old days when even killing Jason Todd seemed simple in comparison. The remarkable thing about Spoiler is that she can still be counted, despite that whole awkward period I described earlier, as Robin’s own ancillary character, still the only one he’s managed to pick up since gaining his own series (Nightwing, by contrast, has had time to burn through several groups of them, with fidgety writers plotting new groups every time they come aboard his series). Even though we’re a quarter away from two hundred issues into Robin, only Dixon in the early issues has ever managed to build a cast around Tim distinctly his own. That’s what this special is all about, fast-forwarding, along with everything else Chuck has done since his return, to a point that makes sense again for Robin as his own man. For good measure, we’re also given a glimpse at Steph’s life and inner turmoil during her own exile in Africa. It would’ve been nice to connect both stories for one that would’ve marked Spoiler’s return more clearly, but as a book that gets a good thing going again, it could’ve been worse. And hey, at the center of it, the reunion is definitely fun reading. I guess we can save the angst for later.

QB ~Trinity #1 (DC) I’m sure if you asked three different people, they’d have three different reasons for being nervous about this book. It’s the third weekly series. The first one was brilliant. The second one seemed more labored. This one seemed like it was going to take things easy, center itself, as the others avoided, on the most famous mugs DC has to offer. If you’d have asked me why I was nervous, I would have pointed in the direction of the head writer, Kurt Busiek. I respect the reputation that he’s developed over the years, but my own experience with him has been spotty at best. The first time I read one of his books was an Avengers relaunch (yeah, and I still haven’t read Marvels, by the way) which basically confirmed every suspicion I’d had about Marvel to that point (read: a bad thing). More recently, during his extended tenure on Superman, he had the bad luck of writing the man of Steel at the same time that Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns somehow managed to perfect the old rule book and completely throw it away at the same time. Busiek seemed more interested in telling stories that had nothing to do with Superman, but rather whatever gonzo idea he could come up with, which had become the worst habit of Superman’s writers since the heyday of the Nineties (and yeah, I include Electric Superman in that estimation), and when he had a rare moment of inspiration, it was based off something Johns made possible. Of course, then I picked up my first ever issue of Astro City a few months back. Wow. Maybe those rare glimpses of flare weren’t flukes after all. Maybe, just maybe, this guy actually had talent.

But still, I mean, really? Busiek was going to be in charge of the latest weekly? I wasn’t convinced that he was up for it. Turns out he is. And when I say that, I don’t mean to say I was merely surprised by the first issue, but literally astonished. The new format for the weekly, and I’m most curious about how this is going to play out over a year, is that Busiek is literally going to be all over it, first as solo writer in the first half, then as co-writer for the second, which extrapolates a different side of the story as readers first experience it with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, with Fabien Nicieza, a writer who has been toiling away both at DC and Marvel for some time now, just itching for that big break that will allow him to finally burst onto the upper echelon. Mark Bagley, who was the other all star of Ultimate Spider-Man for so long, will somehow supply the art for each first half, weekly (not rough sketches, as Keith Giffen did during 52). He’s already developed a different tone (perhaps with aid from inker Art Thibert). The result, at least judging from this first issue, is going to elevate both the weekly format and the creators involved. I’m not saying that this is better than 52, but it’s a whole different ballgame, better focused than Countdown, a calculated machine that is going to deliver a ride like none other. As much as the Busiek/Bagley half reads like the classic conversations between the Big Three recent takes like the initial issues of Brad Meltzer’s Justice League of America exemplify, the second half, which introduces Enigma and Morgan Le Fey as the initial antagonists, is where the magic really begins to shine, illustrated by Scott McDaniel. As with the previous weeklies, the second issue may be the best place to determine just as well this is going to work, but as of now, I can unquestionably call Trinity a success in inspiration. For a company that certainly has no trouble putting books out on a weekly basis, DC has and continues to revolutionize the ability to create weekly series. If a book like Justice Society of America were the only book you would need to read on a monthly basis, DC has once again put together a book that would make the statement of “the only book you need to read on a weekly basis” mean something.

~Nightwing #145 (DC) It wasn’t until the credits on the bottom of the first page, which read, among other things, “Nightwing: Freefall Chapter Six” that I realized two things: Peter Tomasi’s run on the title now has a fair bit of history to it and he’s spent all of it on a story that after six issues hasn’t really done that much. I mean, think about it. Originally, the story was about a mysterious foe stealing dead supervillain bodies, and then it was the winged villains, and then it was Talia, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, and then it was all of those things jumbled together (or at least, as of this issue, how all of that works is pretty much sorted out). I’d been pretty excited about Tomasi coming aboard for a couple of reasons. One was because of his stellar work in Black Adam: The Dark Age. The other was closely related, because he was following Marv Wolfman, who’d managed to put the fun back in the series after a miscalculated One Year Later effort from Bruce Jones (which in hindsight, if Jason Todd’s role had simply been played better, was never as bad as you may have been led to believe), and if Wolfman (whose tenure had already been extended well beyond its originally intended run) had to leave, then someone who would be able to quickly get at the heart of the series was as welcome as a new writer could be. And because he seemed to be starting off with a daring, bold arc right off the bat, there seemed to be no way Tomasi could fail. Six issues later, I can’t say that he has, but there’s also no denying that, aside from reestablishing the feel of Nightwing in the Bat-family, there’s been very little of Dick Grayson driving this story, a lot of establishing him (once again) in a new setting (even though it’s still New York, just not the same context Jones had placed him in), and an emphasis on sky-diving that would play off better if it better reflected his aerial youth and perhaps new approach as an adult still attempting to strike out definitely on his own (not that, um, he didn’t do it during the New Teen Titans era). It can only be deemed as disappointing, for these reasons, not because it hasn’t been worth reading or that there’s any reason as a Wingnut to be embarrassed, but for the sheer potential of it, Tomasi hasn’t reached his stride yet. I can only hope that he’s allowed to stick around long enough to find it, or that he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve in relation to other developments in Batman lore now boiling around him. The arc actually concludes next issue, so this can’t even be a final note on this opening story. Next month should be interesting.

QB ~Batman Confidential #17 (DC) Well, here we are at the start of a third arc for me in this series. Aside from Grant Morrison and Frank Miller, it’s been a long time since I’ve read any book starring Batman regularly, and yet I find myself doing exactly that. Michael Green’s “Lovers and Madmen” was exactly to par with Morrison and Miller, and the last four issues since then proved to be a fair bit of fun as well. This issue kicks off Fabien Nicieza (there he is again!) and Kevin Maguire’s five-part Batgirl (Barbara Gordon)/Catwoman story. The most obvious thing, beyond someone telling a new story about the original Batgirl (that doesn’t involve Nightwing), is Maguire on art. My experience with Kevin is pretty much limited to his legendary pairing with Keith Giffen (and because Giffen usually hogs the glory, I’d really associated even the art just with him and his style of storytelling) from Justice League and their limited run Defenders (at the time, a rare foray into Marvel, which they should rightly consider an honor). His famed facial expressions are on full display here, but his storytelling (yeah, Kevin, I’m giving you some of that honor, now!) is here tempered by Nicieza working a more serious script, which in this issue involves mostly Barbara’s dogged determination to keep up with Catwoman, who represents what the newly-minted Batgirl is still just getting used to, which is being a part of the Bat-mythos. All of this combines in a sort of completely irresistible package: part nostalgia (at the start of a continually outstanding series of female variations on the classic Batman costume, this one’s still the best), part plain old good storytelling, which is exactly what these Confidential series are aiming for and only sometimes really achieve.

~Legion of Super-Heroes #42 (DC) I haven’t actually read a Legion comic since around Zero Hour. Long time, I know, and kind of surprising, since Mark Waid was responsible for kicking off this most recent relaunch, and clearly I’m a fan of his work. For several months now, ever since the 31st century super-team started appearing in adult incarnations throughout a few of the mainstream DC titles, I’ve been trying to find a spot in their own title where I could reasonably pick up an issue and get my hand back on the Legion’s pulse back at home base. Jim Shooter had come aboard, and with his history, I figured now would be a great time to try it. Month after month, I would take a look inside the newest issue, and it just wouldn’t feel right, until I caught a preview that looked to suggest starting the kind of starting point I had been anticipating. So last week I was reasonably confident when I saw the vibrant cover of the latest issue that I had at last found my opportunity. I wasn’t wrong. Shooter and artist Francis Manapul, whose work is reflective of so many underappreciated gems I’d discovered in the past, deliver a concise adventure that reflects all the key strengths of the Legion, reasonably in the middle of things so you definitely feel that things have been happening without feeling lost in them, an excellent reintroduction to what makes the team both unique and reflective of all the best elements of the comics tradition, which they are a big part of while having become paradoxically the biggest hidden treasure of the modern era, probably because they’re published by one of the two biggest companies in the medium while being completely removed chronologically from the rest of the slate, a fete they’ve managed to sustain on a sort of cult level for decades now, long after scores of series have attempted similar gimmicks and failed, a mainstream imprint phenomenon. Or, you know, just a fun read.

QB ~Manhunter #31 (DC) Okay, speaking of cult entities, this is the little series that has repeatedly saved itself from cancellation, launched a fair bit longer in the past than its issue count suggests. In fact, Blue Beetle, a series with four fewer issues at this point, wasn’t even hatched yet the last time I actually read an issue, the events from which are partially recounted in the first few pages of Marc Andreyko and Michael Gaydos’ latest effort (for the record, the comic was Wonder Woman appearing to ask Kate Spencer for a little legal assistance, back during the Greg Rucka era that pushed the Amazon back into a meaningful Big Three position). By pure coincidence, Beetle actually makes an appearance on the last page of this issue. Because it has been a darling of a tiny audience, I’ve been familiar with Manhunter for some time, but had only the one other issue under my belt, so picking this one up seems pretty random, except for my expanded sense of trying to cover the best of what’s around. I can tell you, at least in this instance, Manhunter is definitely among it. If you really need further encouragement, I associate it best, in all my previous experiences, with James Robinson’s Starman.

~Rann-Thanagar Holy War #2 (of 8) (DC) Okay! Far better cover than last time, only the interior work (not the art, but the work itself) is less slam-bang than last issue, feeling a bit more like they-really-just-want-to-keep-doing-these-space-hero-stories (which is the reason, when DC started this up several years ago, I had skipped out on so much of it) than it should. I love that Hawkman gets to be involved, because Hawkman is one of those franchise characters who rarely receive the kind of love it seems they’re due (they get series, which may or may not be up to snuff, are cancelled, and sometimes, like Martian Manhunter, are killed off as a thank you), but when they show up, you can’t help but cheer. There’s also the space version of Starman who’s a highlight, as is the new Captain Comet, but then the rest of the cast is just DC milking not only the same old Rann-Thanagar thing again but the trio of Adam Strange, Animal Man, and Starfire, so soon after Countdown to Adventure. Six more issues may prove, as CtA did, that there’s a story worth telling in it, but I can’t help feeling as if Jim Starlin really just has an objective to keep this particular ball rolling, just because DC feels like it. Plus there’s also the Weird! Going over the issue again, I actually feel better about it than I remember from reading it, but it just needs a little extra kick. It’ll probably get there.

~Secret Invasion #3 (of 8) (Marvel) Speaking of getting there, Brian Bendis seems bent on doing the exact opposite. The only element that seems to be going anywhere this third issue is the Skrull Spiderwoman impersonator trying to convince Tony Stark about his true nature, which is in fact the only element in the first three issues that seems in the least bit interested to explore something relevant to the whole invasion gimmick. It’s also the only thing that will get me to read another issue, to see if she’s just screwing with him or telling the truth, because Stark is poised once again to be the most important figure of a Marvel event, and if his arc proves interesting, so goes the rest of it. Hmm, they should give him a movie or something…

~Dark Tower: The Long Road Home #4 (of 5) (Marvel) Shorter than the first series, this one has also been even more single-minded, doggedly expecting the reader to find interest in events slowly, excruciatingly, unfolding. Somewhere along the way this time, however, the charm has begun to crack, the folksy appeal being casually placed aside because the creators have become a bit too comfortable with themselves, confident that their epic little mythology can carry its own weight. This issue, even the prose section is sacrificed, which at first was a relief, because sometimes I dread that the handful of pages that’re devoted to this element will drag (as they seemingly always threaten to but somehow find a way to avoid). Instead, they’re given to encyclopedic entries on mutants. Um, yay!

QB ~Infinity Inc. #10 (DC) Just because last week I more or less said this series was doomed doesn’t mean I’m no longer enjoying it. In fact, this is probably the best issue yet, building on all of the elements that’ve made it unique from the start, that defined the series and gave it direction, because now, it’s clearly headed somewhere, an exploration of isolation, alienation, and the need to rally together more clear than ever before. Plus, Steel appears in costume! On the last page! But next issue promises to finally conclude a long-standing mystery, which will position the series better than ever for readers to have a look at what it’s all about. In fact, I’m willing to say that now would be a great time to get aboard, because however long it lasts, it’ll be worth the ride.

QB ~Atomic Robo #1, 2 & 5 (of 6) (Red 5) The last time I read this series, I ended up pretty much trashing its publisher (mostly because of the other book I had a look at, Abyss) and writing off Atomic Robo as, more or less, a Hellboy rip-off. Then the PX! Crew (by the way, new pages of their signature series are being posted every week again) made me aware of the 2008 Eisner nominations, and to my surprise, this series was among them. Hmm, I said to myself. Either people will buy and/or celebrate anything, or there’s something to this one. I’d liked enough the issue I’d read (the conclusion of the, at this point, initial limited series, because a second one is being launched at some point this year), but just hadn’t found enough weight behind it, even though its backstory had been, along with the art, what attracted me to it (hey, you mention Tesla, you get points, okay?). Beyond those elements, I found little. So when Heroes had these three issues sitting on the shelf (reprint orders, the clerk told me, that were supposed to include every issue), I took one, then two, then all three that were available (thereby officially blowing my “budget” and/or whatever sense of self-restraint I’d begun to develop recently). (For the record, initially, I liked the idea of having the fifth issue, and then the first issue, and finally, to complete my folly, the second issue, too.) I came away with a new sense of the achievement. Yeah, it’s light entertainment, but it’s snappy and if I really want to, I can just call it kid-oriented (better so than FX, the John Byrne-on-art series that has somehow hit four issues without me noticing), something that could naturally become a better cartoon series than has been kid-oriented in some time. Robo himself is a classic indestructible figure, a natural leading character who also inspires a decent supporting cast around him and perhaps a villain or two. However they came about making it happen (inspired by Hellboy as they admitted), Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener have created a new indy gem.

Hey, for the record, I saw Super Hero Movie the other day. Despite what the poster art suggests, it's pretty much Dragonfly the whole way, and for a spoof, it happens to be pretty much as good as any actual Spider-Man movie in every other regard. It just happens to be funnier.


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.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

#173. Weekly No. 92

PBR’s Weekly

No. 89iii

Now in our third week of self-imposed exile, I can’t help but notice that over at Paperback Reader itself, Bart’s not having the best of times, with or without my absence. A.C. Hall has more or less continued the exile he briefly returned from himself, starting around the time he decided to abandon Dead Letter Quarterly without actually informing myself or Derek Koch (presumably); Dan Head has taken yet another leave as well, and hasn’t this time bothered to corner a replacement columnist, as he normally does; meaning that at the moment, the columns there have been reduced to ones focusing on anime and Battlestar Galactica, with Derek’s bi-weekly Letters thrown in for good measure. To make matters worse, upstart reviewer Andrew McDonald, whom I’d actually tried to recruit as a collaborator, has since quit, apparently, or has even further reduced his output, after a brief introductory flurry (if Bart treated him the same as he did me, he probably told Andrew that “he didn’t have to review everything he read,” no doubt still as a joke, but still coming off the same way). I don’t mean to pick on either Bart or the site, but it’s hard to paint a rosy picture, as Bart always insists on, when things could look better. The latest redesign has effectively pushed reviews down the scroll, to where you won’t even know they’re there upon first encounter. Heck, for the longest time I didn’t bother checking in on whatever someone had written up because the list was literally out of sight, out of mind. Again, I don’t want to sound negative (I inevitably sound that way anyway, I guess; I swear, though, in person, it’s absolutely mixed with my acerbic wit), it’s just I’ve grown increasingly cynical about the site, and that’s what pushed me to remove myself from it, a process that began before the ill-fated Dead Letter Quarterly but certainly wasn’t helped by the experience. Bart is a terrific administrator in some respects, but in others, he’s maddeningly content to let progress mostly sit within only his awareness. I think transparency is a good thing, I really do. And again, this is not to be construed as a dominant explanation for the current predicament, but the fact that he has proven far less supportive of the fact that I have a book than he first claimed he’d be, only to continually make decisions that benefit the site in incremental ways, streamlining away any support he’s shown for his contributors (beginning with a very speedy removal thereof for Dead Letter, in fact, long before the project self-imploded) can’t possibly help, nor his continued blackwalling of information regarding these decisions, other than asking for our approval of the cosmetic changes. I adore Bart for the opportunity he enthusiastically gave me, even walking alongside my infant stages, but as a long-term figure, he’s proven lacking, and I know from inconceivable loyalty for an Internet site, having stuck by a message board called the Observation Lounge for the previous incarnation of Section that eventually became Lower Decks, growing into a contributor position that has since, along with everyone else, fallen by the wayside for the moment, a process that has covered most of the last decade. I respect Bart for running the site and perhaps for having more patience than I can possibly know, and that alone will be the reason if I return the column to its rightful place and thus have the opportunity to properly reach a hundredth column (the reason I’ve modified the numbering since the first week of exile).

Anyway, there were comics this past week, too, including the launch of the year‘s biggest DC event! And because last Monday was Memorial Day, they shipped a day late:

Week of May 29, 2008

QB ~Final Crisis #1 (of 7) (DC) Hopefully you’ve heard of this one. Aside from every other obvious thing about it, DC’s also been and will continue to support it with a number of side projects, some of which have already introduced readers to a number of important underpinning concepts, and the one the company has apparently felt most important to at least the early stages is the establishment of Libra as the villain of pivotal choice. Of course, this is being written by Grant Morrison (and being drawn by J.G. Jones, responsible for all those historic 52 covers), meaning it’s not even going to be ordinary by Crisis standards (I love Geoff Johns, but Infinite Crisis already feels comparatively ordinary, as epic as it was). This is Grant unleashed to tell his story exactly as he wants, which doesn’t mean he’s going to completely wig out, place it in the far future (DC One Million) or within an intricately woven team non-team tapestry (Seven Soldiers of Victory) or even break the fourth wall (Animal Man), but do something truly revolutionary (are you reading this, Secret Invasion’s Brian Bendis?), and once again, as he’s been doing in the pages of Batman, tell an in-continuity as if he doesn’t have to follow the usual continuity rules. Think Kingdom Come, if you will, Marvels or Dark Knight Returns, whatever, a story that is in complete command of itself. To make it brief, Grant’s not pulling any punches. You may be able to tell because he kills an honest-to-god major character during the issue, off-panel, even, Martian Manhunter (the uproar resulting from this event that I don’t even need to spoil is just a little hypocritical, because readers have almost never actually cared about him, even through his recent mini-series and transformation into literally one of the most fascinating heroes in comics), and otherwise spends the issue on a prelude that insists on still treating Libra as if the reader is only just becoming acquainted with him, even though he’s made two appearances (DC Universe Zero and Justice League of America #21) that have basically covered the same ground, which isn’t so much a signal of redundancy as it is to reiterate that, even with all the other material DC will be publishing around this event, Grant is determined to make this book a self-contained, must-read, instant-classic all its own. He’s succeeding. He’s setting a new standard. And yes, DC’s been readying the stage for a long time, it’s ready, and this time, nothing is ever going to be the same again, and you will be able to count on that. This ending is just a beginning.

QB ~All Star Superman #11 (DC) As if he really needs any help justifying the hype as the best writer in comics today, Grant also delivers this penultimate issue of his Superman saga, in which the Man of Steel faces mortality and his arch-nemesis Lex Luthor in a defining story that sets a new standard only one other writer is capable of reaching…

QB ~Action Comics #865 (DC) And that’s Geoff Johns, who here delivers one of his classic Rogues issues, first perfected during his Flash run, focusing on Toyman, a perfect segue from Geoff’s initial adventures with Superman effectively concluded with the publishing of his and Richard Donner’s final “Last Son” issue and now set for the next leg kicking off with Brainiac (the non-Legionnaire one). With James Robinson joining rank on Superman, this will truly be the best possible time to be reading the Man of Steel, arguably since he first appeared.

~G.I. Joe: America’s Elite! #35 (DDP) Part 11 of “World War III” comes as another confirmation of what this event has ultimately become: a fine story but one that refused to push any real buttons, a disappointment I didn‘t expect from this series, which I started reading shortly before the event began. When I first picked it up, I was amazed that writer Mark Powers was able to so vividly recreate the Joes, not only as I’d remembered them, but better, as a force that could be taken seriously in a real world scenario, which previous incarnations had always hinted at but never truly embraced. When he started this war, Powers seemed ready to push the Joes to their limit, but he preferred letting them continue running around pretty much as always, the drama around them dampened by the lack of any consequence to our heroes. Owing to the knowledge that the series is actually ending along with the event, I have to believe a relaunch will follow, and perhaps that will finally allow some growth to occur. Powers has displayed flashes of brilliance in past issues, but much as artist Mike Bear was apparently overwhelmed by the effort of putting this thing together for the past year, I think the weight of putting together such an epic story got to him. Or maybe the conclusion will truly be awesome. At least he’s still got me interested, and hopefully, there will be more chances to come for a long time to come…

~Booster Gold #9 (DC) Johns, Jeff Katz, and Dan Jurgens, having safely established Ted Kord’s return, now accomplish what might have been even more impossible, reuniting the Justice League International (Booster, Beetle, Guy Gardner, Mister Miracle, Fire, Ice, Doctor Light (non-evil, female version), Batman, and Martian Manhunter) to stop Max Lord as the alternate timeline Booster created in saving Ted is saved, only for the Time Stealers (the collection of villains the series has been employing) to make their appearance, setting up an even more epic confrontation. It’s great that Johns and Katz have found a rhythm out of the random elements they’ve chosen thus far to create the book out of, reaching at this point a momentum best akin to Mark Waid’s Book of Destiny arc in Brave & the Bold. If the series continues like this, I probably won’t have a reason to complain about it again.

QB ~Blue Beetle #27 (DC) Okay! I only missed like half a year’s worth of issues! But, finally, Heroes had it again! Woo! And here’s the funny thing: even though the issue actually features both a guest wrier (Will Pfeifer) and guest artist (David Baldeón), it felt completely natural slipping back in as a reader, and that owes a ton to what this series has been able to manage since the first issue, keeping Jaime Reyes’ adventures in the same unique and distinct style from writer to writer, artist to artist, no matter what. Now more than two years on, this is quite an achievement, one I can’t even begin to find a comparison for, because most series, if they can possibly keep the writing consistent, they never in a million years keep the art looking the same with a new artist coming aboard, and a lot of the time, the newbie is ten times less complimentary than the one they originally found. If there’s a possible criticism to this, it’s that the book may come off as being afraid to try something new, but that’s completely irrelevant. Jaime’s armor has shown up in other books; he’s even since joined the Teen Titans. The new Blue Beetle always looks good (which is yet another achievement of this incarnation). And darn it, a little consistency is a good thing, on art or in the writing, and Jaime is getting the chance to explore a whole new vein of the emerging hero archetype in the best way possible. I’m glad I get to read it again.

~Shadowpact #25 (DC) The final issue of this book, it’s one of the series to come out of the same wave of new launches the above series were a part of, both of whom will probably outlive their contemporizes for the simple fact that their creators are blazing new paths will old concepts. Shadowpact was probably doomed from the start (ha! that's the joke from the book, too!), and Infinity Inc. , too, because they’re too far from the mainstream and they knew it and embraced it too willingly. When Bill Willingham first introduced the Shadowpact, it was already clear to be another in-everything-but-name incarnation of Primal Force, a similar team from the Zero Hour era that gave us James Robinson’s Starman, which both Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, in their own ways, borrow from. Of course, under Willingham’s wing, more than just the concept was around; the individual members meant something, perhaps more, than the concept. He kicked off the series, though, focusing more on the concept, and only got back to the characters later, when readers were probably already lost, and once he found his footing, Bill turned the reins over to buddy Matt Sturges, who never had anything else in mind but the concept, which is fine, because over at Vertigo, concept is sometimes king, certainly in the kind of work the two do together there. Shadowpact was always meant to be something different, and when it wasn’t, it was an easy call for DC to cancel it. I long ago speculated about how I would care when it actually happened, when I finished the final issue. Well, now I can say for certain. It’s a kind of relief. It’s done, gone, and only the memories remain. I choose to stick with the good ones.

~Young Avengers Presents: Stature #5 (of 6) (Marvel) What sucks is that after this book, the Young Avengers will once again have to be saddled with the mediocre (but once inconceivably better-hyped) Runaways for a Marvel event mini-series, as they were during Civil War. While it’s inarguably better to read the team as a team, preferably with Allan Heinberg, these spotlight issues have been a perfectly serviceable way to reconnect with the team that made it okay for outsiders to read Marvel again and thoroughly enjoy it, especially to discover that there are a number of writers capable of capturing the dynamics between the members.

~Green Lantern #31 (DC) “Secret Origin” hits Part 3 as Hal begins learning what it means to be Green Lantern, including the seeds of stealing Carol Ferris from Hector Hammond of all people and meeting the rest of the Corps for the first time, with the conspicuous absence of Sinestro, who is instead teased as the big draw of next issue. Yeah, I’ve read this story before in Emerald Dawn, but Geoff Johns (him again!) is still the expert at pulling all the stops away from discovering how everything connects, not the least being his own recent additions to the mythology, not stopping at the deeper meaning behind the yellow immunity the ring always inexplicably had. Still, next issue is really going to make this arc and we all know it…

~Captain Britain and MI13 #1 (Marvel) I picked this one up on a lark, because it looked like it might be worth checking out, another recent Marvel book that has an obvious interest for DC tastes, and I was pretty much right, except the darn thing ends on a cliffhanger! It’s as if Paul Cornell just wants to trick me into reading the next issue. Anyway, the main hook, at least for the moment, is that it seems to be another series, like Incredible Hercules, that seems to know instinctively how to incorporate itself with an outside story arc (well, not so much outside with Herc, unless you still count Herc himself as sort of outside the Hulk saga, which he…sort of is). I’m really not familiar with any of the characters in this one, but that didn’t seem to bother me while reading it. Which is a good sign, right?

Also released last week was a new issue of Daredevil, which I passed on, partly because I had been intending to streamline my purchases, partly because I’d thought I would be buying the first volume of Countdown to Final Crisis trades. After discovering that all the volume had was the actual issues and no behind the scenes information, like the 52 collections did, I decided I could pass on it, and that’s why I bought Captain Britain. Daredevil was actually co-written by Greg Rucka this issue, the only thing that made me question my decision, but I guess I’ve just sort of had it with Ed Brubaker soft-shoeing his way through the series, even though he seems to do anything but. Still, I think the week pulled through nicely despite these things. In fact, I’m only now just realizing that I actually bought ten comics…


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.


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