Saturday, December 17, 2005

Trying a new approach

Okay, rather than the catch-as-catch can approach I have been using thus far, I am going to try to move to a weekly round-up of the comics I bought, and what I thought of them. For the most part, this will be Spoiler-Free, and where I include any kind of spoiler, I will say so, well in advance of the spoiler.

This week, the books I picked up were:

Action Comics #834:
Allow me to start by saying that in my opinion Gail Simone's writing is some of the most enjoyable in comics today. She doesn't always (or even often) weave plots that leave me saying "holy shit!" but she does a great job with characters, and that is more likely than plot twists and "events" to keep me coming back. This story is no exception. It was almost weird to read a non-Inifinite Crisis Superman story right now, but it was a welcome change. The characterization was good, particularly of Lois, I thought, and the story well-told. Byrne's art is an excellent compliment to the story, particularly in this story that deals with the Fairy Tales, specifically an old Kryptonian one.

Firestorm #20:
Firestorm is, in my opinoin one of the most improved books in comics right now. I stopped reading this series when the early issues seemed to be deeply infected with the darkness currently so prevalent in DC Comics these days, and unnecessarily so. I picked up another issue of Firestorm because it was a crossover of some sort, and was pleasantly surprised. While no longer surprised, I must say that I really enjoyed this issue as well.
Quality characterization of Animal Man, Firestorm, and an insight into the alien races involved in the Rann-Thanagar war which was more powerful and, in its own way, intimate than we were afforded by the large-scale mini-series, this book was a good read, and did what a cross-over should. It enhanced the story, but didn't demand that you read it to understand the story. This book could also likely be enjoyed without having read the Rann-Thanagar War mini, although having read the mini would certainly enhance your enjoyment of this comic.

Hawkman #47:
Hawkman is one of the DC books that I think belongs somewhat dark. He is also my favorite ass-kicker. In this issue, he does a lot of that. There has become a kind of pattern of late though, where the big baddy of a given issue manages to get Hawkman seemingly at his mercy, then through sheer bad-assitude Hawkman regains the upper hand. There was a little of that in this comic too. I don't want to spoil anything, but in my opinion, it was a little early for one of Hawkman's opponents to make a return appearance, and the outcome should not have been what it was.
Chris Batista's art on this book is a perfect fit. He makes you believe that Hawkman is at once capable of complete heroism and utter barbarism by the character's body language and facial expressions, a perfect complement to Palmiotti and Gray's straight-ahead, no-nonsense dialogue and story.

JLA # 23:
This story arc feels a little bit like filler. It does serve as a soap box for various characters to explain how they feel about the League. Many of them do in this issue. The story about the Key is really just back drop to the character-driven story. At least it has been thus far. We will see how it ends up, as it looks like it will be the last story arc for this version of the JLA series, so the plot will likely have a big finish.

Nightwing # 115:
Devin Grayson has written a good story here. The cover and story bear no resemblance to what is on DC's website for this issue, which is interesting in and of itself. The story line which has had Dick Grayson become a mob enforcer, and train Deathstroke's daugher, the Ravager, reaches a head - which side is Dick really on? Superman guest stars here as that determination is made. Note, however that this book does not cross over with any of the Superman books.
Phill Hester and Andre Story's art is not to my taste. It might be part of the reason why I haven't been enjoying Nightwing as much as I used to. However, this issue was excellent. Story has always been of greater importance to me than art, and in this issue of Nightwing, story carries it.

Teen Titans #30:
Geoff Johns wrote this issue and there are some interesting revalations. Not to give to much away, and I don't even think this qualifies as a spoiler, but Raven discusses in greater detail that the door between life and death is open, and someone is holding it open. She says it started with Superman's return, and has been open ever since. It should be interesting to see where this leads. This story is very character driven, with the action being a small yet enjoyable part. Tony S. Daniel & Alquiza do a great job with the art, and there are some moments of real enjoyment here. The climax of the book, though, does require you to have been a Titans fan for some time to really get the most out of it.

And now, on to the Marvel books I picked up this week:

Books of Doom #2:
Nothing new to any fans of Doom in this series - we know about his origin - but these books, narrated by the man himself are a lot of fun to read, if a bit slowly paced for me at this point. Doom is possibly the greatest villain in the history of comics. Here we see how he became such. We see the distance he feels between himself and everyone else, and it is presented in a way that almost makes you understand how he takes each obstacle, small or large, so very personally. This series has done a great job so far setting the stage for the man who will become Doom to emerge as perhaps the greatest threat the Marvel Universe has ever known. (He and Thanos may need to play Rock, Paper, Scissors for the title.) As an aside, I have also been reading Marvel's Essential Dr. Doom. It is a fun read, for sure. I highly recommend the Essentials collections to anyone who has an interest in the rich history of Marvel.

GLX-mas Special:
I love the Great Lakes Avengers/Lightning Rods/Great Lakes Avengers/Great Lakes X-men/Whoever. Dan Slott, the writer of GLA: Misassembled and this special obviously does too. I think it is a credit to how much people enjoy these characters that a writer like Dan and an artist like Ty Templeton combined their considerable talents on this one. You have to love a comic where one of the characters mentions that if you are easily offended maybe you should check out the Punisher Christmas Special. There is some interesting back story on the characters in this book, some real amusement with the new Grasshopper, and some significant Squirrel-girl silliness. I didn't get the same feeling of mean-spiritedness towards the characters that I felt in parts of the GLA:Misassembled series. Which was still funny, and incidentally hit in Trade Paperback this week as well. And I will forevermore fear the name of... Dr. Tannenbaum!

Marvel Knights: Spider Man # 21:
Part 8 of Spider-Man: The Other. Okay, this one I have a complaint about. The cover ruined it. The cover clearly shows what is supposed to be the big reveal at the end of the book, so this comic was just an exercise in how they got from Point A to Point B. Which isn't always a bad thing. A well enough written book can make this entertaining enough. But this wasn't that book. It moved a little slowly, and while it contained some interesting ideas, it seemed like a strange time to establish them, so (relatively) closely on the heels of Avengers: Disassembled. Since these things weren't touched on there, they seemed a little shoe-horned here. For my money, the writing and art of part 6 of this series has been the high point so far.

New Thunderbolts # 16:
Not a bad comic at all. As always, the art was beautiful. Thunderbolts have been blessed in that department. This comic is an interesting ongoing, as it ponders moral questions, and you really never know which side a character will come down on in the long run. The Squadron Sinister versus the Thunderbolts? That was fun. The Radioactive Man remains one of the coolest things in this comic. He fits so well into a team book like this. Thunderbolts continues to be a fun read, month after month.

Secret War # 5 Spoilers Ahead!:
A good book, but a little anti-climactic for my tastes and not necessarily worth the wait. #4 came out before I moved here to Florida in September. This book has a few good things, and a few problems. I always hate when a comic introduces a new character who can supposedly pull off threatening the X-Men, the Avengers, etc. and yet somehow you know this character will not have the future that such a character should, and really, it seems to me that a two-pronged attack, or even a charge shield-first by Cap (whose shield absorbs impact and vibrations) would drop her pretty quick. And this comic also had the same issue I have with Punisher: the original mission failed! How crappy does Nick Fury have to be to be able to hand pick a team of heroes, and still not be able to kill the leader of Latveria? And then he manages to brainwash all of them? Ouch.
The art, however was breathtaking.

Well, sad to end on a down note, but it was a pretty good week for comics all told. Next week, in Infinite Crisis # 3, the summary issues end, and the story really gets rolling!