Friday, January 13, 2006

Comics from 1/11/06

Okay, here goes the round up of what I read this week. A strange week for me: Much more Marvel than DC. Usually, these days, I am quite the other way.

DC Books:

Hawkman #48: Hawkman and Hawkgril are off fighting in the Rann-Thanagar war. Hawkman continues to be the baddest of bad asses. At one point, the Green Lantern Kilowog asks him if he is trying to take on four armies at once, and Hawkman's answer is simply "Whatever it takes." Not only is he taking on four armies at once, he has every intention of winning. For good measure, he also has a scrap with some of his allies in the Rannian army. However, this really is more of a "Day in the life" issue, focusing on the relationship between Carter and Kendra - it just so happens that when you are a Hawk and surrounded by war, a "day in the life" will always include battle.
Spoilers of significant upcoming changes ahead!

I got the feeling, however, knowing that this title will be changing to Hawkgirl with #50, that the romance here was just to make us feel Hawkman's loss that much more acutely. This is the downside to today's comic book culture, where we all know what is going to be happening 2 or 3 issues from now. What might have seemed like a straightforward character development to me before I was reading previews, now feels like a predictable plot device, no matter how well written (and it was) or how well drawn (and again, it was)
End of Spoilers.
Overall this was another good issue of Hawkman. Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray do a wonderful job writing Hawkman, bringing across his well-earned confidence, and showing his complex form of honor, as well as his strategic mind. Chris Batista's pencils and Cam Smith's inks are perfectly suited to this book. Every issue is a pleasure for me to read.

JLA #124: Somewhat less of a pleasure to read. Continuity problems bothered me in this one. Warning: Much of what I say about this issue will contain mild spoilers of this book, and of last week's Day of Vengeance special.
Somehow, the threat of the Key using Manitou Dawn to kill millions of people still hasn't grabbed me as significant, even as we see people dropping all over Gotham. Maybe because that threat is given so few pages compared to the character development stuff that is is clearly only a subplot. The real story here is that Envy, one of the Seven Deadly Sins unleashed when the Spectre destroyed the Rock of Eternity in the original Day of Vengeance mini-series, then caught by Sabac, and released again when Katana took him down in the pages of Outsiders, then captured again by the Shadowpact in the Day of Vengeance special last week (so what is he doing here? I don't know, hence the continuity problem I mentioned earlier - I'm not sure when this is supposed to be taking place relative to the other stories mentioned above), shows up and influences (as does the Key) an already-pissed off Green Arrow. So, Green Arrow proceeds to throw a beat-down on Batman. Yep, that's right. Mano-a-mano, Green Arrow beats up Batman. It's one of those "I'm so angry, I'm going to fight well above my head" moments. Listen - I don't care how angry Batman gets - he isn't going to beat Arrow in an archery competition. Similarly, Arrow, sans bow, is not going to take out Batman. I really hope the next issue shows that there was some force either limiting Batman, or amping up GA. Batman never even throws a punch, or tries to get his batline around Arrow. He does give him one little throw, which Arrow turns against him because Batman threw him towards a pole he use to swing around (showing Batman's typical lack of observation of his environment... wait...) and kick Batman. Otherwise, he just gets straight-up beat down. Sadly, as the last story arc of the version of the JLA comic, Bob Harras has let us down. There is the kernel of an interesting story (or two between the GA/Bats showdown and the Key's plot) here, but the execution leaves something to be desired. The art, however by Tom Derenick with Dan Green's inks is quite nice. It has a good feel to it, and helps tell the story well.
End spoilers and review of JLA #124

Marvel Books I picked up this week:

Cable & Deadpool #24: Okay, I have been in and out of this series. I don't know why I haven't been picking them all up. Fabian Nicieza is a good writer. His run on New Warriors remains one of my favorite books of all time. I still read his "New Thunderbolts" and love every issue. So why haven;t I been reading this book? Maybe because I am far from a fan of Cable. Regardless, it has been an oversight I may well rectify. The opening page of this book is an introduction from two of the supporting cast which is designed to bring you up to date in the same way as the "What has gone before" method that Marvel typically uses. Only much more entertaining. From there, we immediately cut in to so well-drawn, nicely dialogued action scenes. My only real complaint about this book is the Spider-Man/Deadpool fight and interaction wasn't long enough. Otherwise, this was a fun book. Patrick Zircher's pencisl suit the story, and are enhanced by "Udon's M3th" on inks. (On the cover, this person is referred to as "M3th@Udon") This one is worth picking up, and I am looking forward to the next issue, when Captain America goes after Cable. (Little bit of a continuity problem here, too: Nick Fury is apparently still in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. so I guess this must take place pre-Secret War #5.

Daughters of the Dragon #1 (of 6) Another book by Palmiotti and Gray (the guys who bring us Hawkman, above?) this book brings us a look at some characters who were supporting cast in Iron Fist and Power Man tales from the 70's. Coleen Wing, samurai and Misty Knight, ex-cop with a cyborg arm were KnightWing investigations at one point. Now they are bail bondswomen and their own bounty hunters. This book starts off with a fight with the Rhino. It's well written, and apparently Misty Knight's arm is a much more serious piece of hardware than it has been protrayed as in the past. The art by Khari Evans celebrates cheesecake, but also does a nice job on the scenes that don't involve any ot that. The full-page spread of the Rhino makes him about as bad-ass looking as he has been drawn in... well... forever. The multi-talented Jimmy Palmiotti also inked this book, and his inks do nothing to get in the of the beautiful pencils. So far, this is pretty far from standard super-hero fare, but that doesn't mean that it isn't fun. After all, how many books these days have a guy with a ball gag on their cover?

She-Hulk #4: A tale told in flashback about the brief time when She-Hlk was not in control of her faculties, and pulled a "Hulk" and knocked a town down. And her redemption after facing up to what she had done. It's a nice, straight forward story, has a guest appearance by Doctor Leonard Samson, and is a nice look at the makeup of the She-Hulk, and what makes her a hero. Another enjoyable read by Dan Slott, but something about guest artist Scott Kolins makes me think his art is better suited to the pages of Heavy Metal than a hero book. Not necessarily the nudie stories of the book, just that the style, I think would lend itself better to "more serious" sequential art, and perhaps Sci-Fi than it does to She Hulk. It certainly is both distinctive and of excellent quality, though.

Well, I'm out of time but do want to post something, so tune in later for reviews of Ultimate Extinction #1, and X-men: the 198.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Inspired by Reay... and stuff

Okay, this one is going to cover a couple of things, primarily: Spiderman: The Other so far, and Doc Samson. There will be some spoilers, spread liberally throughout, particularly in the first part, regarding Spider-Man: The Other.

The Other is a huge Spider-Man story arc. It's twelve issues, and at the time of this writing, Spiderman has been killed and brought back. As mentioned in the comments of my previous entry by my good friend Reay, it would seem that thsi should be a major event - Spider-Man died! Of course, unlike when Superman pulled the same trick, Spidey was shown to be recovering in the same issue. He wasn't out of action for a ling time in our work, or in the Marvel Universe. Which may have been a mistake.

You'd be hard pressed to find a life in the Marvel Super Hero community that hasn't been touched by Spidey. An issue or two where the effects were shown on the rest of the MU would have been interesting. We haven't seen much about his friendship with the Human Torch of late, but this would have been a good time to bring it back. His own rich supporting cast of Heroes should have had some really emotional reactions to it. But instead, we see Mary Jane and Aunt May's reactions, and some reaction (mostly business-like) from his fellow New Avengers, and that is it. Hell, we got better demonstration of the respect he commands from fellow heroes when he flipped out in House of M and Cage and Logan had strong reactions to it. One of the most selfless heroes in the history of Marvel, one who has triumphed over some of the most incredible odds, and we don't get to see how Daredevil, who has crossed over with him so many times, or any of his villains really feel about his passing?

A common complaint these days about comics (and that has been made about the early part of The Other) is that they are too decompressed. But yet, Reay, in his comment to my last entry pointed out that the death and return were too compressed. The fact is, the pacing of this series has been very uneven. Issues of dense exposition, followed by issues where everything is hurried through. This looks like it might truly be a significant chapter in Spidey's life, but the writing, pacing and art are so uneven, it is hard to follow even in seperate books. I can only imagine how jarring this is going to seem in trade paperback form.

And now, on to Doc Samson.

I touched on it briefly in my entry a couple of days ago, but I thought it deserved a little more attention. I've always loved the idea of the Psychiatrist/sometime scientist who got Gamma-irradiated and has super strength. He truly sees force as a secondary way of dealing with things.

Interestingly, his origin comes from having intentionally irradiated himself with energies drained from the Hulk. He now posseses considerable strength, but none of the Hulk's lack of self-control. He has been a long-time friend and foe of the Hulk, trying to cure him, and trying to stop his more murderous rampages. He has evolved over time, into one of the most rational of figures in the Marvel Universe, and nearly unflappable. He has consulted for various super teams, and provided support to heroes in need.

One of my favorite expressions of his way of looking at things was in Hulk #316. He had succeded in separating the Hulk from Bruce Banner. The Hulk had not a stitch of humanity left in him, and was rampaging through New Mexico. Four Avengers arrived to stop him: Iron Man (back in his Red-and-Silver armor days) , Wonder Man, Hercules and Namor. Now, besides Thor, these are probably the heaviest hitters the Avengers have. And they fought Hulk to a near stand-still in a great fight scene. This was a true clash of titans. Blows that could send each other hurtling miles from the battle site, Throwing everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at each other.

Until Doc Samson intervened. The good doctor pointed out the destruction caused by their battle. And he was right - they had pretty much destroyed an entire town in trying to stop the Hulk, without either side accomplishing much. So, they agreed to let Samson continue to try and "treat" the Hulk. It was a John Byrne story, but while many involved in the comics industry, either hard core fans or creators, do not like Mr. Byrne, he has still told some great stories. This was one of them. I cannot do it justice. But it cemented my enjoyment of Samson, as the hero with common sense, wisdom and restraint to go with his intelligence and power.

And now, he has his own limited series, where he again shows that wisdom and intellect are imporant adjuncts to his not-inconsiderable strength. The first issue was quite enjoyable. Hopefully the rest follow suit.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A word on my new approach, and several words about other things.

Okay, so I like the way my last entry read. I will continue to do that from next Wednesday. I missed a few weeks in there, because my wife, who is still living in Toronto (pending the government finishing with her paperwork) was down to visit me here in Florida over the holidays, and we were too busy for me to keep this up to date. That being said, there are some things about comics that have been floating around in my head, and how I will share them with you.

Spoilers ho!
Infinite Crisis #3 came out. It was indeed into the meat of the story. Kal-L (Golden Age Superman) starts trying to recruit people to his side. We find out that Alex Luthor and Earth-Prime Superboy are the real villains. Or at least, it looks like they have been manipulating Kal-L. Kal-L proves he is cool here, again. The story is picking up steam, and I am really looking forward to the next issue.
End Spoilers

Dan Slott's work on the Thing book continues to be excellent as well. This book should be checked out.

The other thing I wanted to talk about was the evolution of "Batdick" as people have taken to calling Batman, due to his... less than pleasant way of dealing with those around him.

(Mild Spoilers of the current "Victims" story arc of Batman below)
I remember a time when Batman used to go out and stop criminals. No, really. There was a time when his comics weren't so much about his villains being out to get him, but about his villains trying to accomplish some goal - get rich, take over Gotham, kill a bunch of people, whatever - mroe than they were about trying to take down Batman. I think the change started around the time of Bane. He definitely targetted Batman to try and take him down. Ra's had targetted Bruce a few times, but more as a test than to try and kill him. It just seems like with the addition of Hush, and the return of Jason Todd, we have more and more villains whose goal is the defeat or destruction of Batman more than it is to get something for themselves. This in turn has led to an ever-darker and less trusting Batman. Not to mention the propensity in writers to go for Batman's supporting cast so totally. Since Contagion, I cannot count the number of really bad things that have happened to Alfred. Including his most recent (in the current issue of Detective, I think) stabbing at the hands of Zsasz, and subsequent use as bait by Batman to bring Zsasz into the open.

Also, in this story, Batman did no real detective work. He basically says "well, Zsasz has no pattern, so I can't find him - have to bring him to me." This from a guy who has found rare mud at a crime scene and deduced someone's hideout, or knew that Ra's Al Ghul was testing him based on a faint fingernail scratch and Ubu's behaviour. This man is all three CSI's put together. And he just shrugs and says "the killer has no pattern, so I'd best use my best friend as bait?" The fact is that the darkening of the world around him has caused Batman to become darker still in response, and in my opinion is hurting what the character is really about.

But to return to the reasons for this, I think it stems from a need on the part of the writers to make the stories more personal. I'm not saying this is a failing on their part, it is merely an observation. By threatening Alfred, it brings the story much closer to home for Batman, and therefore, the reader. There was a time where threatening the city or innocents was enough, but for better or worse, it seems that time has passed. Now, it has to be Batman himself, or one of the supporting cast members who is threatened in order for us to care. This has caused the writers to make Batman react to this, becoming ever more paranoid, and ever more critical of those who would leave openings whereby someone could get at his loved ones. This more than anything else has created the nigh-unlikeable Batman who exists today.

I hope that Infinite Crisis has a way to deal with this, or that the editorial team behind Batman does, more specifically.

In other news, Doc Samson, always one of my favorite characters got his own Limited Series this week. It was okay. It had a nice blend of him using his mind and his Gamma-powered muscles to solve his problems. I recommend this one, too.