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 31.com 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.