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.

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