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.

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