Comic Fodder

DC Comics: Week of January 10, 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 or DC's Vertigo imprint, drop us a line and we'll take a quick peek.


The hallmark of this week is that DC seems to indicating that it has no intention of telling all of the events of the year between the last page of Infinite Crisis and the first panel of the first One Year Later title within the confines of 52.

An editorial gate has been lifted to allow writers and editors to begin to talk about the year of 52 in their own books (see JSA: Classified and Outsiders). Whether it took a few extra months to decide what was going to happen with characters, or whether this has all been part of the master plan, the 35 weeks of holding our breath and waiting for answers now appears to be coming to an end.

Also, there have been a lot of Dominators running around in the DCU lately (see Outsiders and Green Lantern Corps). It seems DC has The Dominion on the mind. I'm willing to bet a dollar that we see an Invasion! collection in next months solicitations (which is terrific as I have only random Invasion! issues and didn't follow the storyline at the time). Readers may also wonder if Dominators may play into the next big crossover (as well as Lady Styx in 52).





JSA Classified #21

The mystery of Hawkman's disappearance from the pages of his own title is solved. Carter Hall has been participating in interstellar adventures which the reader shall never see, but which appear to be far more interesting than the stories going on over in the Walt Simonson penned Hawkgirl. Unfortunately, Simonson is also handling this arc of JSA Classified.

This issues catches us up with Hawkman, still fighting the ugly and interminable war on Rann (readers may remember the Lord of the Rings-style refusal to simply wrap up Rann-Thanagar War limited series). There has been quite a bit of machiavellian intrigure on the Thanagarian side of the battle, featuring interstellar bad-girl Blackfire. As she was attempting to do in the Rann-Thanagar War and the Infinite Crisis Special, Blackfire continues to manipulate the Thanagarians side, rather than the Rannians that she previously duped (why she isn't burning in Seven Hells at this point is anyone's guess).

A guy who may have been Rannian or Thanagarian (more on this later) gives Carter an alien jump drive with "evidence" that could prove Blackfire is up to no good. Carter gets his hands on a Rannian handheld zeta-beam caster and goes to Earth. Where, for reasons that seem sort of hazy, Hawkman looks for a device called "The Absorbacon" (not just a comic blog!) . A mysterious someone dumps an avalanche on Carter, which he appears to escape with the Zeta-Beam, but the art in the panel is sort of murky.

Somehow Blackfire's minions know that a single jumpdrive has gone missing, so Blackfire shoots her own wall and yells.

There's an odd bit that ties into nothing where a kid plays with his new Nintendo Wii. I have no idea what this has to do with Hawkman (Yes, I know this is an ad. Don't write in.).

Blackfire helps several "stone killers" escape. This takes several pages for no real reason.

Carter puts on the Absorbacon helmet (which is terribly unflattering, but when you wear the Hawkman helmet on a regular basis...), which, we learn, is The Helm of Automated Exposition. In case you weren't a Teen Titans fan in the 80's, we relearn Blackfire's origin. It's unpleasant.

The escaped killers are now armed with jetpacks and guns, and thusly ambush Carter while he's having a really long thought bubble string. I am charmed to see thought bubbles rather than the oft-used, post-DKR thought caption. Especially one that ends with a giant question mark.

Hawkman fights the badguys, but we find out those bad guys were just the warm-up act for Blackfire.

Scene.

I risk fiery death at the hands of a Thor fans for having so much as a negative thought regarding Walt Simonson's handicraft, but as none of you know where I live, I feel safe to risk it: Following Simonson's run on Orion, and his most recent run on Hawkgirl, one has to wonder if Simonson isn't running on late-career auto-pilot.

Readers may have no idea who is on whose side in this comic. In the limited series Rann-Thanagar War (and Hawkman series), Hawkman was on the Rannian side of the conflict, and Blackfire was playing both sides. Here, Hawkman appears to be teamed up withthe Thanagarians, as does Blackfire. Unfortunately, Simonson doesn't bother to (a) tell us who is fighting on which side at any point using proper nouns, or (b) draw either side's uniforms or informal dress differently. This is a shame, because previous artists such as Ivan Reis have done a lot of work to make sure the Rannians and Thanagarians made very different wardrobe choices. With Simonson neglecting things like backgrounds and useful exposition. There's something very wrong or something missing.

Also, as we all believed at the end of the Rann-Thanagar War, Thanagar was restored to orbit by the Green Lantern Corps. But, convenient to the tale Simonson wishes to tell, the GL Corps are comprised of incompetent boobs. The "commissioner" had this to say:

You haven't been paying attention, Carter. You've been too obsessed with Blackfire. Apparently the Corps flunked celestial mechanics. Thanagar's rotation has degraded andit now presents one side to the sun and one side to the stars. Boiling hot and freezing cold... ...And only the thinnest temperate zone between them. Our entire population can't live there. Rann's still the only option.

Carter... somehow missed that a whole planet quit spinning? Did this not make Rannian CNN? When nobody left Rann, did he believe that they just really liked the public school system? Further, the Corps... failed... Celestial... Mechanics... Now the GL's don't know how to keep a planet spinning, and, worse, they don't come back and check their work in the middle of a massive interstellar war?

Did either Simonson or editor Mike Carlin pick up Rann-Thanagar War? This is exactly the kind of small crack in continuity that can occur when creators and editors can't be bothered to do their homework.

Simonson's art, aside from a, shall we say, universal appearance of all characters, just seems horribly rushed, with the exception of Simonson's characteristic overly flourished sound effects.

Hawkman deserves better than this. And readers can't keep giving Simonson a pass every time he hands in shoddy work. DC should also have had second thoughts on handing him teh assignment, given his handling of the hawkgirl series.

Luckily, Hawkman makes an additional appearance this week in Justice Society of America. Hopefully the current JSA: Classified arc will wind up in quick fashion.




Batman #662

The fill-in story on Batman concludes, and readers get a reminder of why DC may have seen a need to reinvigorate the franchise. There's nothing, narratively, odd about the 4-part "Grotesk" series by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. There just isn't anything special about the story.

Once again, someone is killing folks in Gotham, and, once again, Batman is called in. Once again there is a Gotham-style freak at the center of the crime, and, once again, nobody's hands are clean. This seems to be par for the course for Batman fill-in tales, and, after more than six hundred sixty issues of Batman alone, you can't really expect for every story to be a hit out of the ballpark. Unfortunately, this story has a particular feel of color-by numbers Batman story, and will quickly fade from reader's memory.

The arc harkens back to 80's era self-contained Batman comics when stories like this would occur in one or two issues at $0.75 to $1.00 each. At a total of $12.00 for four issues, it's no wonder DC is having a banner year.

DC seems content to allow their writers to fall into well-formed ruts with some of their biggest properties, and that's a shame. With as many writers who must have ideas for a 4-issue Batman story, it's unfortunate that every writer isn't bringing their A-game every time, or even trying something new. And while one would expect some creativity in the area of dark vengeance from the team that handled the Spectre series once upon a time. Dark, yes... Vengeance, check... Creative, eh...



Batman Confidential #2

Andy Diggle writes on this comic and Whilce Portacio draws.

For a new Batman title, this seems like fairly standard Legends of the Dark Knight faire. In this case, someone has commandeered an unlikely suit of super-armor created by WayneTech/Corp/Industries, and the giant, remote-controlled super suit is killing people. Not just people, but trying to kill Lex Luthor.

I will pull this phrase out of my pocket once more, and I assume that readers will grow sick of this phrase, but please understand I mean it with the best of intentions: A lot of things occur, but nothing much happens.

Portacio used to be an artist one could trust to put in a stylized but solid performance. Here, his work is fast, loose and, at times, sloppy. Perhaps the inking doesn't accomodate Portacio's style, but there's not much to suggest that Portacio is putting out his better work. He may be trying on a new look, as Porter is attempting with Trials of Shazam, but the results are not terribly impressive for a well-rendered or even particularly interesting new look.

This title isn't bad. Even when the story seems to be veering into a chase and a fight scene, plus prerequisite old maid squabbling between Batman and Alfred, the dialogue and plotting are tight enough to just enjoy the ride. However, when super robots and a downloadable consciousness start to make appearances in a Batman comic, there's a line which blurs between detective fiction and science fiction. That isn't to say there isn't a mystery here or that a little sci-fi is a ll bad, but after wrapping up the Grotesk storyline in Batman comics, one wonders what direction DC is taking Batman. With Dini and Morrison solidly providing action and character challenges in each issue of the two flagship Batman titles, and Superman: Confidential solidly exploring early aspects of the Man of Steel's career, the high bar has not been met with this new series.



OMAC #7

This comic doesn't actually have any of the plot points which are listed in the solicitation. Which makes the reader wonder what is happening with this title.

The last OMAC is the last no more! A new OMAC has arisen, but where did it come from, and what powers does it have that Mike Costner doesn't? Most important, how will this new OMAC allow Brother Eye to move forward with its plans for human conquest, and can Mike survive this latest threat, or will there really be one OMAC left standing?

Nope. None of these things happen. Nor does the action on the cover of our love interest/ dupe of the series, Vienna, ever occur. In fact, Vienna never really appears to wake up from a coma.

We do get a holographic projection of Superman in a jail cell, a seemingly tangential few pages of Superman and Batman having a conversation, and a long stretch to the 8th issue.

I can't help but believe this would read fine as a trade, but the soliciation and a few decades of reading comics sort of telegraphed where the story was going long ago.


Martian Manhunter #6

Something actually occurs. Several plot threads begin to tie together, and J'onn behaves remotely in character. Whether this "something" will redeem 5 months of plodding plotting and make the $24 readers have spent on this title by the end of the series worth it is doubtful. Readers who planned to buy the trade and can find it at a discount might be better rewarded.

The art of Al Barrionuevo is beginning to grow on me.



Justice Society of America #2

Picking up exactly where issue #1 left off, the second issue of the latest volume of JSA continues apace with the action previously set in motion.

In this issue we are introduced to two new characters. One, the former football hero, now missing a leg due to a lingering infection, and most likely our newest Commander Steel. The other, the illegitimate son of Ted Grant (aka: Wildcat) whose future does appear as preordained.

Maxine Hunkel and Stargirl take to the halls of the JSA HQ to bond/ get away from the body which fell in the center of the meeting table in the last pages of the first issue. Starman continues to reveal an odder side. And Hawkman appears with a vengeance in a splashpage which earns the right to be a splashpage.

Johns is moving the characters into position, and his dialogue is the sort-of-clunky, explosition heavy, but believable, dialogue that readers may have come to expect. The mystery is fully revealed, with a clear threat to the bloodline of the original masked woman and men of the JSA and other early teams. It seems the villain will take time to reveal his or herself from the shadows, and, instead, it will be up to the JSA to decipher the threat before it takes down whole lineages.

It can seem like a cheat to keep a threat so insular to the superheroes rather than assembling a threat to the world at large. However, given the nature of the JSA as a generation-spanning team, the story seems particularly appropriate. In this case, JSA gets a pass. But it would be a shame to see an X-Men like insularity creep into JSA over the long haul.

Eaglesham's art continues to impress. From small, emotive character moments such as Wildcat's son (Tom Bronson) admitting the last fight he was in a decade ago, he lost, to that splashpage of Hawkman coming down full blast on a costumed villain. Eaglesham does an excellent job of capturing the various personalities of such a vast cast, while simultaneously creating a vast expanse of a headquarters for the team.

One could speculate as to the secret origin of Starman (it's a story point), but this reader has some suspicions which may go well beyond the obvious nod, proving that this Starman is the same character from Ross and Waid's Kingdom Come.

This comic is already impressing only two issues in. And while some readers may not get excited by the prospect of the JSA going toe-to-toe with a team of meta-Nazi's in next month's issue, this is exactly the kind of fight the series needs to come full circle.

Recommended. One of the best in the OYL launch.




So?

The Batman line of books can't afford to go back to status quo status this quickly after OYL. These stories could have been written at any time in the past twenty years, and the stories could be from any point in Batman's career.
The editorial team needs to step it up a notch and begin thinking long term story arcs and character building for the world of Gotham rather than in short chunks and disposable villains or the revolving door of Batman's Rogues Gallery.

The limited series more or less met expectation, and that's a judgement call whether that's good or bad for the reader.

And the two JSA books hit very different marks in terms of quality.

So what did you think?

I've read this anti-Nazi-villian claptrap in several places, and it is something I difficulty understanding. I can comprehend intellectually that someone, somewhere might not like seeing superheroes beat the bejezus out of Nazis, but I really don't want to meet someone like that. =p

-- Posted by: Mithel at January 14, 2007 7:21 PM

I similarly don't understand the issue with Nazi super villains. Of all the recycled things in comics, this one actually makes quite a bit of sense in the pages of JSA.

-- Posted by: ryan at January 14, 2007 8:33 PM

I agree with Hawkgirl's horrible art. I can't stand the dark clunkiness of the characters as well as the overdone body of Hawkgirl herself. The character has always worked better as a slim, aerodynamic girl. Having two watermelons on your chest just does not fit in with her look.
I've enjoyed reading your commentary. Some of these books I have not, and will not, read but it is good to see what's going on in the DCU. Thanks for the review!

-- Posted by: Foolkiller at January 15, 2007 1:24 PM

Chaykin's work on Hawkgirl was not his strongest. I do wonder about his ability to make the transition back from his TV producing gigs to drawing a monthly comic. The editors certainly had to know what Chaykin would bring to the page in regards to the female anatomy, and he certainly did his level best to fulfill that expectation

Sad to see an abortive launch on a title with two such high profile creators. In all truth, I gave Hawkgirl about three issues of OYL and then threw in the towel. I am not currently up on Hawkgirl.

-- Posted by: ryan at January 15, 2007 2:31 PM