Comic Fodder

DC Comics week 1/17/2007

Each week Comics Fodder will bring you reviews of a few titles from DC Comics. Not all titles will receive a mention. Should readers feel a certain title has been overlooked from DC Comics, DC's Vertigo or Wildstorm imprints, drop us a line and we'll take a quick peek.

Didio's "One Universe" approach to the DCU is paying dividends as patterns begin to emerge across several DCU titles. Even more Dominators appear in Green Lantern (see last week's column), and the mysterious Lady Styx reminds readers that she's alive and well, not just in the pages of 52 , but Mystery in Space, and, this week, in Omega Men .

52 Week 37: This review is spoiler laden. Read at your own risk. A lot of action this week. Supernova's identity was revealed as Booster Gold. This reader was happy to see that his first guess as to Supernova's identity was correct, but this column isn't about how smart I am (though it should be). And some dicey stuff happened with the Phantom Zone and Skeets, who we've known had turned tot he dark side some time ago.

In addition, our star-faring heroes left behind the body of Buddy "Animal Man" Baker, only to see a reunion between Grant Morrison's sensibilities, Buddy, the yellow aliens from the long-ago run on Animal Man title, and the reader.

It's impossible to discuss the issue without mentioning Didio's DC Nation column at the end of each of this week's issues and how it ties into Animal Man's "resurrection", as DC gleefully breaks the 4th wall in order to create a greater reader experience. Unfortunately, some of the joy is taken away by DC showing it's hand as long ago as JLA #0, but it certainly could provide a whole new definition to "World War", in the upcoming World War III finale to 52.

It seems odd that we didn't get to see Renee Montoya or Vic Sage in this issue, given the urgency of their mission in the last issue. And it would have been interesting to see some more of the fallout from Luthor's "Everyman" plan.

Morrison's touch may be a bit polarizing at the best of times, and certainly some readers may feel that all of the 4th wall business is a bit much for a cape and tights book. If executed properly, and readers can get past the discomfort of this sort of literary device, the depth of 52's structure just changed significantly, going all the way back to the first issue and The Question's declaration that he could "see you". Some readers may resent the reference to a moderately read title from more than fifteen years ago, putting the 52 creators into a position wherein they have a responsibility to either keep the reference fairly metatextual, or else do a lot of really fast catching up.

This reader is more excited about the 52 title than we've been since we realized John Henry Irons was not going to be active as "Steel" during the run of this title.

In the meantime, for a fairly good idea as to where this might be going, readers may wish to reference Morrison's three Animal Man collections. Here, here and here.

And, of course, DC has let the first of these go out of print.

AQUAMAN: SWORD OF ATLANTIS #48: Busiek's "re-imagining" of Aquaman and the ocean floor of the DCU Earth continues apace. It's now become clear that Busiek's plan was to launch the comic as an epic hero's journey, and, one assumes, the path to the throne of Atlantis. Busiek has established an interesting character in King Shark, taking a second-rate villain and turning him into a fairly colorful character. Unfortunately, King Shark is too often more interesting than our stand-in Arthur Curry. And it doesn't help that we know that the Aquaman we've all grown up with is standing right next to our titular protagonist, having undergone what seems like his tenth unnecessary transformation since the late 80's.

Busiek is a formidable writer, as he's proven on diverse titles such as Astro City, Superman and Conan. But this series is going nowhere fast. The "Dungeons & Dragons under the sea" theme doesn't ring particularly true for the DC world, and too many threads have been introduced (from AC's origin to the lingering SubDiego storyline) with no sign of being tied up.

Aquaman: Where are we headed? Atlantis?

Squid-Head Aquaman: We are, in your parlance, looking for trouble. You've taken on the role of hero, lad. You seek to return civilization and justice to the oceanscape. But you cannot lead if none will follow. And they will not follow until you prove yourself.

In a nutshell, this seems to be the mission statement of the comic since the OYL shift. Keep Aquaman out of the narrative trap of Atlantis, so he can walk the earth like Kane from Kung-Fu solving crimes along the way. Busiek seems to believe that at some point, then, Aquaman will be able to journey to Atlantis after his many adventures, and claim the throne, as in any good fairy tale with a prophecy attached.

Unfortunately, the set-up would work better if our young Arthur had a greater motivation for wishing to see Atlantis rebuilt. As I recall,. he's actually from Florida where he grew up in a dolphin tank, so the connection seems dubious at best. Further, it's not really clear how wandering about like "BJ and the Bear" solving crimes is going to trump getting his hands dirty in Atlantis, Squid-Head Aquaman's 212-step plan aside.

And, lastly, where is the sword? It's right there in the title of the comic, but not a lot of hay has been made about any sword. Aquaman has a sword, true, but so does everybody else. I'm not picking up on this "Sword of Atlantis" bit.

So, in this issue, we're given a new version of the old "Fisherman" DCU villain, who we learn is actually a parasitic star fish who makes people use a killer rod and reel, if I'm making the proper connection between what I saw in Gotham Central's final issues and in this issue of Aquaman.

And there's something about some sting-ray people (sting rays! With boobs!) who can't seem to get their act together enough to move away from the evil monster who lives behind a nearby evil gate. The invisible monster seems to kill several of them every day, and, apparently, that's an issue. So, our new Aquaman and friends decide to take on the invisible, killer beast. With a sword. And a big bag of insecurities.

Conan never had any insecurities. I'm just saying.

This title needs help if it wants to prove to readers why they decided not to simply improve upon the Sub-Diego storyline. (say... where IS AquaGirl?)

Birds of Prey #102: The storyline which began in issue #100 continues as the newly assembled roster of BoP continues through their first mission, despite the fact that things have gone decidedly pear-shaped. Simone continues with an excellent job of demonstrating character through action and dialogue, rather than through exposition. After three issues, readers may feel they know the rather large cast better than the cast of smaller books, such as Aquaman.

The story isn't exactly the height of drama, but that works in favor of providing the characters an opportunity to demonstrate who they are as they react to each situation.

The cast, itself, is a fairly odd mish-mash of female DC characters, from Lady Blackhawk to Big Barda to Judo Master. Simone also isn't afraid to make the suggestion that these characters are really enjoying the all-female comradery and chance to show their chops outside of the testosterone world of superheroics. It's a good choice, and Simone knows where to keep the dial set.

The splinter story of Kate Spencer (Manhunter) comes close to devolving into a "24"-like torture scene, but not without giving Manhunter a chance to shine. In addition, it's good to see Gypsy is still part of the team.

Unfortunately, the storyline following Oracle (aka: Barbara Gordon) outwitting Lois Lane felt a bit pat, especially as a two second conversation between Lois and Superman would nullify the threat. There's simply too much shared information between Lois, Superman and Barabara to believe that Barbara was ever really under threat of being exposed by Lois, or that Barbara's threat would hold up. It's a neat "checkmate" sort of moment that gives Barbara the edge, but doesn't ring very true. If either Lois or Barbara were really the person they were presenting in their scenes (and I don't believe Simone intended for either of them to carry out their threat) then it doesn't say much for either character.

It would be interesting to see Superman and Lois having a conversation regarding the interview, but Simone most likely will never get around to that moment, and that's too bad.

THE HELMET OF FATE: DETECTIVE CHIMP Out of his "combat suit" from Shadowpact, and back into his plaid suit and Holmes-inspired hat, Detective Chimp is a breath of fresh air into the DCU. Sure, Detective Chimp is played for laughs, but like a lot of comedy, there's a grain of truth there which makes the whole thing work.

There seems to be some disconnect between the Helmet of Nabu as it appears in the pages of 52 and the journey of the helmet as described in the pages of this comic. I don't think something like this would have escaped the attention of editorial, so I shall keep my mouth shut until further notice.

The four-issue mini leading up to the comic isn't a bad idea. Not only does the comic catch you up on the current state of the Helmet of Nabu (including ditching the Adam Warlock like "realm inside the helmet"), the four issues will also give readers a quick tour of the state of magic inside the DCU.

Willingham's Detective Chimp is a great character, and his benignly cynical character is a great way to get back into the swing of things with one of DC's oldest, spookiest and most limitless characters.

Looking forward to the rest of the issues and new Dr. Fate series.

THE OMEGA MEN #4 (of 6): No doubt this series is supposed to be setting readers up for the big Lady Styx-related super cross-over event at some point.

Unfortunately, pacing is a foreign concept in Omega Men, in everything from writing to panel lay out. Characters seem to run from panel to panel with only the smallest hint of exposition, with lots of fighting, and the barest hint of character development. It's almost impossible to tell who the Omega Men are from this series, let alone this issue.

Moreover, the threat posed by the Lady Styx, an important DCU character as of a month or two ago, is the sort of cosmic gobbledy-gook that could certainly due with a nice Grant Morrison-style monlogue to get you to buy the idea, even if you're not crystal clear on the smaller details. Unfortunately, DC has gone with an HR Giger alien with lipstick look for this intergalactic conqueror, and that's sort of tough to buy.

There's also a lot about four cosmic MacGuffins that someone is either searching for or trying to keep away from Lady Styx, but between the near non-stop fighting and complete failure to make me understand why I was supposed to care who the characters were, I've sort of given up.


DC is having a lot of trouble with their post Rann-Thanagar space stuff. I'm not clear as to why. But it would be nice to have two pages of this comic without someone trying to destroy someone else or turn them into a zombie.

GREEN LANTERN #16: Perhaps this is just being nitpicky, but the solicitation information has absolutely nothing to do with what actually occurs in the comic. Just FYI.

This issue is actually very good, and continues with the "Wanted: Hal Jordan" storyline. It's nice to see Johns putting the JLA into action rather than letting them stand idly by as good-little-diplomats in a post Infinite Crisis world. Plus, Ivan Reis can draw all of these characters phenomenally well, so why not let him go nuts?

Johns does fall into his unfortunate habit of providing wall-to-wall action for the duration of the issue. It's possible all of the action seen, aside from the last page or so, occurs within about a twenty-minute time frame as Hal battles from one scene to the next. Johns could certainly do with checking up on how Simone and others break up the action with moments of quiet and conversation in order to discern how to give the action sequences (which Johns can most certainly write) a bit more extra punch.

Revealed in the last issue as Amon Sur, rogue son of the Lantern who gave Jordan his ring, Abin Sur, Amon Sur is spending vast resources to reclaim his father's legacy. The villain's plan actually seems to now make sense, and we learn that Amon Sur has had one finger in the pot since the series began. Further, Johns has worked his usual magic and come up with a villain with a unique anti-Green Lantern tactic in "Hunger Dog" (any relation to the Hunger Dogs of Apokolips is unlikely).

Following this run, it would be nice to see a "state of the Hal Jordan" story or single issue. We haven't been able to see much of Coast City or the paper-thin supporting cast Johns had attempted to establish in early issues of the series. This series is 16 issues in, and needs that sort of grounding. A rollercoaster ride is fun because most of the time, you don't fly over hills and through loop-de-loops at breakneck speed. If we all lived on rollercoasters all the time, it would be a little dull.

Ivan Reis continues not just to amaze, but improve. Excellent work from the art team on this issue.

Wrap Up

DC's flagship work was fairly impressive, but the surprise of the week for this reader was the Helmet of Fate: Detective Chimp issue. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't exactly the next Watchmen, but I wasn't expecting too much from a single issue comic as a teaser to a new series and it defied expectations.

DC is taking it's chances with many of their new titles, including the Omega Men and Aquaman. What they need to recall is that if these series don't take off with the readership, the post-Infinite Crisis DC isn't supposed to just ignore the failed attempts while constantly rehashing the success stories. They're going to have to do the heavy lifting to get those characters and franchises back on track.

So what did you think? Was I way off? Questions? Comments? Come on, I can take it.