Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Comic Book Wednesday - 4/18



It’s time again for one of my meandering, long-winded comic book round-ups.

Not much has changed on my pull list, but the next few months are going to be interesting as DC shakes up the creative teams on the New 52 titles. I’ll discuss each individually as they come up, but suffice it to say that a lot of the DC books I am reading are still in my box every month due to the creative teams and not the characters.

Actually, while I’m thinking about it, let me go ahead and address the New 52 now that we’re just over six months in.

I’m over it.Not "stop buying it" over it, just "cut the crap and go back to the regular continuity" over it.

It’s just too fucking ridiculous that DC expects me to accept that Batman has only been around for five years. And yes - the argument could be made that it is also ridiculous to try and compress the last seventy-plus years of continuity into one man’s twenty-five-ish year career, but that is a lot easier to work around than what we have now. Because no matter what DC might like us to think or how they might like us to change our outlooks, there is no separating what we know about Batman (or Superman, or Tim Drake, or Hal Jordan) from what we are reading now. Especially when half the books they are putting out have no real difference from what was happening before. It’s just irritating reading the titles I thoroughly enjoy and knowing that they are essentially out of continuity.

As much as DC may claim that the goal was to have new books that were not intimidating; I would have picked up the same books I did regardless of the numbering or their place in continuity. The creative teams and promise of timeliness are what sold me. And DC could have provided those things without their big, gimmicky relaunch.

Side Note: Woo hoo! I just ordered Draego-Man and Diamond Dallas Page from Mattycollector.com with no problem. Well, if you don’t consider the White Screen of Death to be a problem. And I don’t as long as I get my stuff. And it doesn’t take forty minutes.

Anyway, the reason I felt I needed to mention this is that today’s (Monday’s) Matty sale had the potential to be fraught with difficulties for me. Firstly, I have been holding off on that DDP figure because I wanted to combine Matty’s ridiculous shipping charges with anything I might buy today. I didn’t really think I was going to be buying Draego-Man, but Matty was reissuing Count Marzo and I thought there was a chance I would get him. But Matty has done shifty things in the past like pulling down regular offerings during sale days, so I wasn’t positive DDP would even be available. He was.

My second issue was how fast Draego-Man might sell out. Everybody that wasn’t me was pretty excited about that figure in the first place, and after TheFwoosh.com’s review I think the rest of us were convinced. So what was already guaranteed to be a good seller was going to be even more popular.

Finally, I’m at work today. We don’t have the internet and are not allowed to use any sort of cell phones or other electronic devices. So I knew I was going to have to sneak into the bathroom to order. That in and of itself involves a lot, as you can’t just leave for long amounts of time whenever you want. You have to wait for there to be no activity and typically you have less than five minutes to do whatever you need to do – make lunch, smoke, poop; whatever. But everything worked out and I got my invoice with little to no fuss. I had to sit through several WSODs, but I still managed to check out by 12:05.

ALL-STAR WESTERN
How convenient that I can begin with an excellent example of how unnecessary the New 52 reboot really was. Everything that has occurred in the first seven issues of this book could have happened pre-reboot.

The main Jonah Hex/Amadeus Arkham story is still awesome now that it has moved from Gotham to New Orleans. Moritat’s artwork continues to be excellent and very appropriate to the material. I like the new Nighthawk and Cinnamon backup much more than either of the previous two. This title is a strong keeper. I’m glad to be reading it every month.

ANGEL & FAITH
This book seems to be much more Faith than Angel, but it is working that way. Faith and Angel have a very interesting relationship of support and redemption dating back to the first time Faith went bad on Buffy. Angel has always believed in her, and that is being paid back now as Angel attempts to atone for his actions as Twilight. The story in this title really seems to have a purpose and a goal and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

ANIMAL MAN
Jeff Lemire has done a whole lot of building with this book and what he has constructed thus far is epic and impressive, while still feeling like the tip of the iceberg. We have what is essentially a new world (though it takes place within the confines of the New 52 DCU), a new family (I confess to not knowing anything about Buddy Baker’s clan pre-New 52; which I think is kind of the point of the reboot), and new forces of good and evil (the Red, Black, and Green – though we’ll get to that last in Scott Snyder’s Swamp Thing). I am fascinated by every issue and each installment leaves me wanting more.

The slow process of revealing Buddy’s daughter’s powers and capabilities is both creepy and thrilling, mirroring the unveiling of the Rot’s agenda. This title is exciting on its own, but the upcoming ties with Justice League Dark and already ongoing parallels with Swamp Thing make it even more compelling. These crossovers are examples of successful world-building and multi-title storytelling, rather than the typical forced “tie-ins” and “events” that we see. These former Vertigo titles are all maintaining high standards.


AVENGERS VS. X-MEN
Marvel’s big 2012 event is the first one I have truly care about in years. Not because it involves the Avengers and they’re the hot shit this year (though that admittedly does put some extra stank on it), but because this event is treating the X-Men as a major force in the Marvel Universe. This is not always how the mutants are presented.

Since I started reading comics the X-Men have always been the big selling point of Marvel for me. The first Marvel comic I ever bought was Uncanny X-Men 234 and it hooked me for life. It was by design that the X-Men were presented as outsiders and separate from the more publicly heroic and renowned members of such groups as the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. But I have always felt that they should be the most powerful group in the Marvel Universe. Thanks to several years of consistent and amazing character development with Scott Summers we are about to see the consequences of the Marvel Universe coming to that same conclusion.

So far I have read issues 0 and 1, as well as whatever the first New Avengers issue is that ties in (I don’t normally buy New Avengers, so I don’t know). I didn’t bother with “X-Sanction” because I can’t stand Ed McGuiness’ art and for the most part have not liked things that Jeph Loeb has written for Marvel. I was fine. Issue 0 explained as much as I need to know about what’s going on and issue 1 is tension, tension, tension, BLAMMO!

Also, Evil made me aware of the "Marvel AR" feature, which I was not aware of and would have dismissed as a bullshit gimmick if I had not seen it with my own eyes. It is awesome. All you have to do is download the Marvel AR app to your phone and aim your camera at pages with the "AR" box on them. If you scan the cover you'll get a sort of trailer for the comic, so you can get a preview in the shop and decide if you want to buy it. If you scan an interior page you get art progressions, original pencils, character bios, creator commentary(!) and more. It's fucking rad and I wholly endorse it. The AR boxes are a tad distracting and I think Marvel should offer alternate issues, but they really don't bother me too much and the special features are well worth the trade-off.

Side note: The app works better on Android than iPhone. My Droid X2 scanned every single AR feature almost instantly once it got calibrated. Evil's iPhone couldn't even load some of them. I'm sure they'll fix that, but I always get a bit of satisfaction when my Android upstages one of the iSheep's products. And I'm a big enough man to admit it doesn't happen often.

New Avengers was an entertaining read, as it dealt with Luke Cage and Jessica Jones and how they relate to the Avengers team. It did a great job of characterizing them and making me aware of some of the players in the story. The rest of the issue gave me a good feel for where the Avengers are right now and how they view mutants. The biggest thing I learned from New Avengers is that I still hate how Brian Michael Bendis makes everybody talk like Spider-Man.
BATMAN
This whole Council of Owls thing is really ramping up, but it looks like our hero finally has a handle on what’s going on. That’s not to say he might not still get jacked over the course of the big “Night of the Owls” crossover that’s coming up, but he sees a lot more like the Bruce Wayne we all know and love than he has for the past few issues. Scott Snyder is still on point, but – and I hate to say this – I think I’m getting a little tired of Greg Capullo’s pencils. Let’s put Dustin Nguyen on this book for a while.

Speaking of the crossover, as much as I love Snyder’s Batman stories and as much as I like most of the characters associated with the Dark Knight; “Night of the Owls” is most definitely a cash grab. I’m just not sure yet how abusive it’s going to be. If the tertiary titles are the type of thing that feature events and characters from the main story then that’s cool and only makes sense. But if I end up having to buy The Dark Knight, Birds of Prey or Batwing to get crucial parts of the story I’m not going to be happy.

BATMAN AND ROBIN
Lord help me, I’m enjoying this book even more than Snyder’s Batman. I’m a big enough man to say when I’m wrong, and I was wrong with my initial impression on this book. The first arc ended up being not only awesome but a critical point in Bruce and Damian’s relationship. Issue 8 was a superb one-off that dealt with the aftermath of Damian’s decision to kill Nobody and how Bruce chose to deal with that. It was great and possibly my favorite issue of the New 52 so far.

BATMAN INCORPORATED
Returning in May and I cannot wait. Is this basically an Elseworlds title now?

BATWOMAN
(I love that cover)

I can’t believe Amy Reeder is off this book. After being apprehensive about her style – which many described as “Manga-influenced”; a term that is sure to turn me off – I ended up liking her artwork a whole lot.

I wrote that before seeing issue 7 and realizing that maybe Reeder is a bit overwhelmed. While every rendering of Batwoman/Kate Kane was beautiful, the rest of the artwork was inconsistent. Also, the story is getting a bit confusing. I had to read this issue a couple of times before I could figure out the sequence of events and just what the heck was going on. Now, sometimes it’s good when a comic makes you go back and think it through it like that. This was not one of those cases. The narrative was just very jumbled.


And I hate the New 52 Killer Croc, but that’s not Reeder or Williams III’s fault.
BATMAN: THE BRAVE & THE BOLD
I haven’t even gotten to read the last couple of issues yet because of my goofy schedule and other stuff that’s been going on. Mrs. Troublemaker ended up sitting down with our son for these.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON 9
So Buffy is not actually pregnant – she’s a robot. Huh. It turned out Andrew transferred her consciousness into a Buffybot (apparently they’re as common as Kryptonite now) and hid her real body in suburbia living some kind of regular life. Unfortunately for Buffy (and Andrew) some chick has tracked down that body and kidnapped it. I really like the idea here, but I’m confused about some stuff:
  1. What consciousness is inhabiting Buffy’s flesh-and-blood body?
  2. Who is the kidnapper chick? I’m not sure if we’re supposed to know or not.
I’m sure those issues will be addressed, but I was definitely left hanging. That being said, I enjoy every single issue of BTVS Season 9. That’s a lot more than I can say about Season 8, which was definitely a habit comic at times.

CATWOMAN
I still think this is a great book and the best depiction of Selina Kyle I’ve seen since “When In Rome…”. Judd Winick is writing interesting stories about a well-defined Catwoman and Guilleme March’s art is absolutely stunning. Nobody in the business today does facial expressions like he does.

DANGER GIRL
This book is a whole lot of fast-paced, Hollywood popcorn movie-style fun. Andy Hartnell is telling a fairly basic story about the Danger Girl team that brings back a lot of the charm of the original run, but the real magic is Chris Madden’s artwork. This thing looks like Disney Princesses with guns. The quality is just outstanding.

DANGER GIRL VS. ARMY OF DARKNESS
Um… I have a bad feeling the comic shop hasn’t been pulling this for me.

DEADPOOLMAX 2
NOOOOOOOOOO! It’s over. The adventures of Wade Wilson and Hydra Bob as told by David Lapham and Kyle Baker are done. Finished. Kaput. But I will say that the final issue wrapped everything up in a satisfying way. There was a definite ending that at the same time left open the possibility for future stories if the creative team so desires. Which they assure us at the end they do not. Actually, Baker didn’t even provide the art for the final issue, but it was still a hoot to read.

DEMON KNIGHTS
Just as I was hoping last time, the new Demon Knights story arc is delving into the characters. Issue 7 explains the history of Madame Xanadu, Etrigan, and Jason Blood. Well, it gives Xanadu’s explanation, anyway. And then the last page is HOLY SHIT!

FRANKENSTEIN: AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E.
After the wrap-up of the disaster at S.H.A.D.E., Frankenstein and his bride were dispatched to take care of some old business. The latest issue deals with the reason Frank and his lady split up. It’s horrifying and heartbreaking at the same time. Like with Demon Knights, I was happy to spend some time exploring characters this issue after several issues of staright action.

GI JOE
Oddly enough, at the same time many New 52 books are wrapping up initial story arcs and dealing with repercussions, IDW’s GI Joe books are doing the same thing. “Cobra Command” is over. A new Commander is fully in charge after a massively successful first action, and the Joes have suffered huge cutbacks as a result of their inability to deal with said action (also as a result of Tomax Paoli’s contacts in Washington, DC). Also, Major Bludd got totally dicked over by the dude who is basically Serpentor.

I’ll say once again that IDW’s Joe comics are absolutely fantastic. The characters are all real, fleshed-out human beings. The stories are mature and real while still being very much military fantasy. And the art is consistent throughout the titles. IDW is very careful about who they let work on the Joe books and I love that. Not once in all of the issues they’ve published has there been artwork that was sub-par or even out-of-place. No cartoony guys here.

Side note: IDW has the worst website on the whole, entire internet. They don't even have current issues of GI Joe spotlighted in the section. I think PCW's site is more up-to-date.

GI JOE - INFESTATION
Despite being pleasantly surprised by last year’s zombie-centric “Infestation” crossover (which ran through most of IDW’s licensed titles), I wasn’t expecting much from the sequel. I was wrong to feel that way. This time around the threat comes not from the undead, but from the Elder Gods – as in Cthulu. The action takes place in the Cobra-La facility – the place Cobra sends operatives who display mental problems. I thought this was a great way to work the silly concept from the animated movie into the modern continuity, especially given the tentacle-laden subject matter. Once again, Cobra’s Interrogator is central to the action. The cool surprise was when Crystal Ball showed up to handle shit. He already knew all about the Elder Gods and what was going on. IDW has already established Crystal Ball as a spooky mystic who is more a manipulator of minds than an actual hypnotist (though he does that, too). This was a very cool little two issue story that I got a kick out of.

And if you’re worried about IDW getting magic and monsters into your GI Joe; don’t. These are handled in such a way that if you choose to interpret them as in-continuity you can. If not, you are safe disregarding them.

GREEN LANTERN
After about a year of teases and then an almost complete absence, we are finally getting back to the Indigo Tribe. It turns out they all wear Birkenstocks and lots of flannel and really enjoy pottery. Ha! Just kidding. For some reason the Tribe has taken Sinestro and Hal captive. Things are pretty creepy, especially when Black Hand shows up and acts all weird. Well, weirder. This is still a very good book and one that is largely unaffected by the reboot.

HACK/SLASH
Still thoroughly enjoyable. Daniel Leister’s art is such a relief to see every month, as I’m still bearing the wounds from some of the rotten artists that worked on this book at the last company.

HUNTRESS
Huntress wrapped up this month and I still say you should go buy the collection as soon as it comes out.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN
The Mandarin’s plan is finally in full swing. At the rate events occur in this title I’m thinking we’ll wrap up this story arc sometime around when Iron Man 3 hits theaters. I enjoy this book, but reading it is kind of like swimming through a pool full of Jell-O.

JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK
Ted McKeever has successfully introduced me to the characters in this title that I was not previously familiar with. The narrative has picked up and become somewhat more decipherable, particularly as far as Madame Xanadu and how she relates to the team. I’m really liking the dynamic of the team as well. Constantine and Deadman are hilarious and even Shade is growing on me.

NEW MUTANTS
The last story arc involving Doug Ramsey’s return to the island of the Ani-Mator and facing his fears. Everybody on the team ended up infected with a virus designed to turn its victims into the Ani-Mator – a way for the villain to cheat death – and Warlock had to take command of the team.

I dig this series a lot. Marvel has stacked the mutant side of its publications with an amazing array of talent and New Mutants is particularly noteworthy for being a fun, fast-paced update on a classic team.

NIGHTWING
I think the major triumph of New 52 Nightwing is how much Dick Grayson feels like his own man while still being very firmly tied in with the Batman sub-universe. The first story arc revisiting Haley’s Circus and the events of Dick’s youth fleshed out the character while at the same time telling a compelling story that ended up tying in with the upcoming bat-title crossover, “Night of the Owls”.

PUNISHER
Frank has a sidekick. And it should surprise nobody that writer Greg Rucka made her a hot, tough redhead. This book is excellent, with a momentum that has built since issue 1 and is showing no signs of slowing down.

SAGA
(that's the cover to number 2 up top)

Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples have created this new book that makes me feel smart. It feels extremely high-concept, but it really isn’t. As a matter of fact, it’s painfully simple. A husband and wife from warring cultures have a baby and everybody is out to get them. I mean, it’s in outer space and the husband looks like a demon and the wife looks like a fairy and there are bad guys with televisions for heads. But it’s super basic. And amazing. Go to your local comic shop right now and tell them to order the first two issues of Saga for you.

THE SHADE
Writer James Robinson just wrapped up the multi-issue arc dealing with Shade’s vampire daughter, La Sangre; who happens to be the protector of Barcelona. We’re learning more and more about Dickie Swift over the course of this series and I’m dying to see where Robinson’s pleasant, meandering narrative is taking us. The Shade feels like such an event title – one of those special things that you only get from the Big Two every few years and feel lucky to have read.

STAR WARS: AGENT OF THE EMPIRE
The first story of Jahan Cross – the Galactic Empire’s answer to James Bond – wrapped up with a caption reading “Jahan Cross will return in HARD TARGETS...”. THIS BOOK WAS SO AWESOME. John Ostrander is my hero. Buy the collection when it comes out. You will love it.

SUICIDE SQUAD
Okay, I admit that Harley Quinn’s New 52 origin is just about one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen. If you don’t know, it’s basically the same as far as Harleen Quinzel being a psychologist that Joker manipulates into loving him. But then he takes her to the same vat of chemicals that bleached his skin and dumps her in. And she comes out not with green hair, but with half red/half purple (or is that just black with highlights?) hair. Then they fuck. It was really dumb.

But I do like everything else about Suicide Squad. Well, except not-fat Amanda Waller. Maybe they’ll make her fat later?

SWAMP THING
Swamp Thing is still my favorite book out of the New 52. And now Holland has finally embraced the green and become Swamp Thing. Except he’s a little different, because he is HEAVY FUCKING METAL SWAMP THING. His first encounter with the Rot is unbelievably awesome and I really wish Mattel had waited to make a figure because I want a figure of this Swamp Thing:


I had to put on some Dragonforce to finish reading the latest issue.

TEEN TITANS
This book is probably the most standard-fare New 52 superhero book I am reading, and I mean that in the best way possible. Scott Lobdell is telling an interesting story about characters I like and Bret Booth’s art is very sleek and cool without looking too 90’s. The only real issue here is that it has the same feeling as all the other New 52 books – I feels like I got dropped into the middle of a story and am still trying to catch up. This is fine with the titles I was already reading – Batman and Green Lantern, for instance – but it is varying degrees of frustrating in all the other books. In Teen Titans it is only slightly frustrating because this really is supposed to be the introduction for most of the characters.

UNCANNY X-FORCE
I wasn’t too crazy about the art in the last story arc with the Captain Britain Corps, but the story was outstanding. I’m always up for some Jamie Braddock shenanigans. This continues to be my favorite ongoing series and I’ll once again point out how much it is the spiritual successor to Chris Claremont’s work with the mutants.

UNCANNY X-MEN
Excellent.

VENOM
So now Flash is a part of the Secret Avengers and Beast has devised a way to let him utilize the Symbiote without becoming attached. Except that Flash is already attached. He’s just hiding it. He’s also hiding the fact that he’s sneaking out at night and straight-up murdering all of the other terrestrial Symbiotes. In the last issue alone he took out Scream and (other one).

WALKING DEAD
Oh, Rick. You make me so nervous sometimes. And boy, did you fuck up this time.

WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN
Jason Aaron has settled in as the fun mutant writer. While New Mutants is definitely a fun title, Wolverine & the X-Men is almost comedy. That’s not to say that serious things aren’t going on, it’s just a title that embraces laughs and adventure over angst and drama. It looks like we might be switching between Nick Bradshaw and (other artist) on story arcs, and that’s okay by me. I vastly prefer Bradshaw, but if the switch keeps the book on time and prevents the artists from burning out I’m good with it.

WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN: ALPHA & OMEGA
I felt like Quentin Quire really needed some fleshing out when the above title launched. This offshoot did it. It’s the story of Quire imprisoning Logan and Armor in a mind trap and we really get to see some great interactions between the characters this narrative chooses to highlight – Armor, Logan, Quire, and to a lesser extent Rachel Grey. The art shifts between the real world and the mind world, with (artist) on the former and Mark Brooks on the latter. Both are very nice to look at, but it’s a bit of an inversion because Brooks’ pencils almost seem a little more real due to what we’re used to seeing in comic books.

I forgot to mention this one last time because I hadn’t quite decided to like it yet, but it ended up being pretty great. Pick up the trade when it comes out – you won’t be sorry.

WONDER WOMAN
I can’t remember at all what happened after the confrontation with Poseidon and Hades. I don’t know if that’s a bad sign for me or for the comic. What I do know is that Cliff Chiang is leaving and that is a very bad sign for the comic.

X-FACTOR
Havok and Polaris are back and in charge of the team due to Madrox’s recent absence (he was dead). But now Madrox is back (he got better, as one does) and now he has to deal with the new (old) members. Also, things have been running a lot more smoothly without Multiple Man. Uh-oh. I love this book.



SPECIAL EXTRA!

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN


This show is absolutely terrible. I’m not going to get too in-depth about it because I’ve seen three episodes now and have devoted enough of my valuable time to this show, but I did want to make a quick statement.
The animation was the first thing that bothered me. It just isn’t nice to look at like Spectacular Spider-Man was. And I know it isn’t entirely fair, but Spectacular is going to be informing my opinion of Ultimate quite a bit. I adored that show and was thoroughly irritated when it ended. I don’t know if it got cancelled or if the concept for Ultimate came up and it just seemed too good to delay, but I don’t think that show got a long enough run.
So Ultimate Spider-Man has some pretty ugly animation. I’ve seen Flash stuff that looks better.
I’m also not crazy about the idea of Spidey being part of a team. In a way it makes sense that he’s the senior superhero and I get wanting to work the Avengers and SHIELD into current Marvel media, but I don’t think this is how Spidey works best.
Finally, the tone of the show is just awful. It is clear to me that the producers are aping the outstanding Teen Titans cartoon from a few years ago. And they aren’t doing it well. The little inserts of big-headed characters and asides to the audience feel awkward and out-of-place. Forced. You might be thinking that stuff is aimed at kids and I just don’t get it, but guess what? Lil’ Troublemaker has watched two less episodes of this show than I have. He wouldn’t even stay in the room for the second and third. Now we’re pretty much both done with it.
Side Note: Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is not only still good, it is even better. The second season opener featured the Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom. It was amazing. Apparently there are even more Marvel Universe guests slated for the rest of the season. Also, I have a theory about why Wolverine and Spider-Man are Avengers now. I wonder if that might not be some sort of plan where if something happens with Fox and Sony Marvel can snag the rights to those characters back claiming that they fall under the Avengers banner.
Also worth noting are the shorts that play during Disney XD’s Avengers/Ultimate Spider-Man programming block. They feature the old 90’s Marvel cartoons with new, comical voiceovers and they’re pretty hilarious. Rick Jones is the man.


FLEX MENTALLO

DC finally collected this classic work from two of the most talented creators working today. The hardcover is beautiful – a step above DC’s normal releases – and I strongly recommend you pick this version up rather than waiting for a trade (that I’m not sure is coming anyway).
I’m not smart enough to really comment on all the metatextual significance of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s initial Vertigo offering, but I can say that I loved it. Anybody who doesn’t quite understand All-Star Superman or Morrison’s run on Batman needs to read Flex Mentallo. This is where it all started. I’m not getting into the plot, as it is a blast to discover everything on your own, but I think this series is a must-read.
Frank Quitely’s pencils are fantastic, though not as refined as some of his more recent work in places. But every page is astonishing. This is one of those books you will go back and scrutinize after you finish the narrative. I saw over on Bleeding Cool that the book had been re-colored. It looks like the original release was much brighter and vivid and this edition is more muted and realistic; similar to what was done with the Killing Joke special edition. I have only seen a few panels of the original work, but I can say I enjoyed what I read here very much.
My honest recommendation is that you go to the store as soon as you can and buy or order Flex Mentallo. Not only is it a great read, I think it is a very important piece of modern comic book history. And if you hear anybody refer to it as a “Graphic Novel”, kindly punch them in the dick.

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