Comic Fodder

DC Comic Reviews: Week March 14, 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.



52 week 45

The tipping point for World War 3, a mini-event winding up 52. It might just be me, but the pacing of the issue was no more nor less than the average wham-bang, Superhero throw down. Aside from being informed that Black Adam was causing devastation on a Biblical scale, for once, the art (and possibly Giffen's layouts) just didn't serve the story terribly well. Instead the reader had to take the commentary at face value from concerned parties around the globe.

As disturbed as some readers claimed to be regarding the death of Osiris a few issues back, DC chose an odd place to pull punches. Except for JG Jones deeply creepy cover, of course. Now THAT is a supervillain. Chew on that, Von Doom.

That said, the novel-esque approach to events coming together is really paying off.



GREEN ARROW 72

Winick seems unable to let go of the fact that DC's post Infinite Crisis editorial shake-up allow him to continue his merry tales of Jason Todd, the impossibly skilled second-rate villain. My GOODNESS, the Red Hood is a threat. He can block arrows with a knife. He plans everything out well in advance like the world's kookiest game of "Mousetrap", and, to boot, he's "from the street" (remember he was stealing hubcaps off the Batmobile?).

As Green Arrow and Speedy take a back seat for whatever-month-in-a-row this is of Winick working out his Red Hood opus, the title is losing focus and any momentum engendered with the OYL push. Isn't there a city in distress out there, separated seemingly quite-unconstitutionally by a huge wall? Weren't there mutant drug addicts running around? Didn't Green Arrow used to be the star of his own book?

The exchanges between Batman and Green Arrow are probably one of the stronger aspects of the book, because Winick's action scenes are usually a bit clunky, no matter what artist he's working with. And certainly the conversation regarding the success of each of the heroes' wards had that nice one-two punch as each tossed verbal grenades the direction of the other. I'm just not sure why this is happening in Green Arrow comics.

I can't say I'm looking forward to what is sure to be an extended storyline for Speedy as she confronts Green Arrow about his aristocratic background. After building Ollie up as Riches-to-Rags, dead, crazy street archer, etc... it seems that would be an argument that would last about five seconds. Winick might be able to pull it off, but concerns over GA's street cred seem a bit trite.

The last two pages of the comic seem to be drawing things back together with the original implausibility of the OYL scenario, getting to whatever point Winick was trying to pull off by putting Oliver Queen into office and remembering that Ollie has a new supporting cast we were trying to care about sometime in 2006.



GREEN LANTERN CORPS 10

Back on track. While the mysterious "Corpse" storyline provided a decent distraction, readers might have felt that such a tangent seemed to occur too early in the series' run.

Ten issues in and we're still establishing the wide cast of the book. With as many characters as Gibbons has to potentially focus upon, the legacy Lanterns make for the best touchstones as the reader gets to know the rest of the cast. Currently, the Natu/ Korugar storyline seems to hold the most potential for character exploration.

Unfortunately, Gibbons seems to have trouble telegraphing his storylines. There seems to be some oddness on Mogo, hinting at mind control (ugh) for Lanterns heading to Mogo for R&R. The two new Lanterns giving Guy Gardner trouble seem to be merely getting set up for their comeuppance. That doesn't really equate to wild, fresh story arcs.

On the whole, the title is holding up fairly well, but there's no feeling that Gibbons is trying to hit it out of the park. The book reads more like a series of vignettes at times, peeking in on a handful of Lanterns to check in on their progress. Somehow Johns is bringing a grander scope to his largely Earth-based GL book. It would be nice to see Gibbons stretch the ideas behind a colossal intergalactic police force rather than playing it safe. With a book about "The Green Lantern Corps", somehow I'd expected to see things on a bit more of an epic and alien scale.



JLA CLASSIFIED 36

The Red King saga wraps up in this issue. This storyline had a lot of interesting ideas, following the Red King through the multiple realities and possibilities as he attempted to seize control of the Earth. From the first issue of this series, the concept seemed stolen from some scrap of paper Dan Slott might have found in a DC Comics office after Grant Morrison had left the room. The idea had a certain Silver Age/weird/playing with conventions sort of brilliance to it. And, occasionally, the Red King arc impressed.

However, it often appeared Slott's idea was bigger than his ability to handle it. Characterization of the Red King was tossed aside for mustache-twirling villany and no real motivation for The Red King to want to rule the Earth. Classic villains don't merely appear, they spring from believable motivations.

A lot of little mistakes and oddities ultimately pushed this series to the quarter bin. Little mistakes made no sense, such as the gigantic teleporter Batman seemingly produced from under the plaza of a municipal building, and the Justice League threatening to blow up the moon to take out the Red King. I'm no physicist, but even I'm aware of the effects that destroying our planet's only satellite would have upon the oceans, gravity, and werewolves. Even with millions of dimensions/ possibilities to play with, time-frames infrequently made sense as to how technology was obtained that out-supered the Justice League, how Profit obtained such wealth, and generally executed his plans.

Not to mention... why did Green Lantern suddenly need yellow piping on his suit? That sort of thinking didn't serve the comic in any real way, and was one of a lot of details that just made this story seem sort of rushed.

Hopefully DC is heading to the bottom of the pile of pre-Infinite Crisis inventory stories and can start getting back on track with some fresher plots.



MARTIAN MANHUNTER 8 (of 8)

I hope that writer AJ Lieberman is really enjoying the money DC paid him to write the extra two-to-four issues to extend this series to eight issues. The protratced narrative had virtually no sense of pacing, or, really, excitement, until the final two issues. The story was so basic, it could be summed up in a single Mort Weisinger-era 16-page tale.

Speaking of telegraphing in Green Lantern Corps, anyone who didn't figure out the identity of the missing Martian by the end of last issue needs their geek card revoked. That was kind of sad. Not as sad as the boob-tacular Martian in Borat's swimsuit we see when our villain reveals herself (did anyone else think that the colorist totally botched this one and they had to go to press with it anyway? Check out that splash page image and tell me I'm wrong). Why would they even choose to color the character this way if it was intentional? It seems as if DC is spending considerable effort to redesign the look of Martians, and something more in lines with J'onn's full body suit just seems less... like a sixteen year-old dreamed up the costume.

All that said, the whole thing was tied to events from the previous Martian Manhunter series which I believe I and four other people read, way back around 2000. The revenge angle (tied to J'onn's family) seemed like a fairly enormous plot point for this mystery to resolve itself and was never covered until this issue. Perhaps less time could have been spent running about housing developments in North Carolina suburbs and more time discussing the events in question.

And this is going to sound weird, but I really enjoyed most of the issue. Sure that's issues 1, part of 7 and most of issue 8 of an 8 issue series that I felt were worthwhile, but the story wrapped up all nice and tidy-like, I liked the final explanation for J'onn remaining on Earth, and I hope his new pal works out and makes return appearances.

It would have been nice to see the future Miss Martian make an appearance, but I'll take my victories where I can get them.



ROBIN 160

Post-OYL, Robin has consistently been a solid read. Writer Adam Beechen hasn't introduced crazy new elements to the Batman mythos, turned Robin's world upside down or killed off any more of Robin's friends or family. Instead, Beechen has, in a way, returned to formula for comic success in the 1980's. Robin features a likeable protagonist with an understandable layer of angst, paired with a romantic subplot which progresses fairly naturally (perhaps more naturally than the teen-romance in Invincible), and manages to tell smaller story arcs while maintaining solid subplots and a supporting cast across those shorter arcs.

A while back, being the genius that I am, I wrote a piece on why I didn't think writers coming on to a title for six-issue story-arcs and then leaving was benefitting monthly comics.* Robin has been a textbook case of how writing for the longterm (rather than coming in for 6-12 issues with no plan to continue) can build a fictional world in which readers can invest. With a page or two devoted to Dodge each issue, repeat appearances of Killa Nilla, Zoanne and other characters, readers can develop an affection for those characters and watch as plots unfold on multiple fronts. As with certain hour-long TV dramas, the reader may not like every aspect of a comic, but may be willing to stick it out as other elements unfold.

Wisely, Robin is portrayed as a particularly bright and athletic teenager, but he's still a teenager, and he's not yet progressed to the levels of skill we can assume he might one day bring to the fight. Instead, he's a clever detective with a disarmingly direct manner when dealing with witnesses. It's when he gets into a fight with a gang of metahumans that it's safe to assume he's going to face some trouble. More brains than brawn, Beechen's Robin is turning into a fun read.

And Freddie Williams II's art fits here much better than on titles such as Outsiders, etc... he might make an interesting choice for Teen Titans at some point.



SUPERMAN 660

I'm a bit disappointed they've chosen to shelve the Krypto inventory story in favor of a story about the Prankster. But I'm also looking at Krypto sitting on my desk as I type this, so that's to be expected.

A while back while writing The Flash, Geoff Johns began working between story arcs to tell the stories of The Flash's rogues gallery in single issue fill-in's. In a long running series, this sort of story-telling made perfect sense, and gave readers a chance to better know villains with whom they might not be familiar. The effort provided readers with more than a name, and rejuvenated seevral villains as they told their own story. Heck, I now believe Captain Cold may be one of the most underutilized villains in the DCU.

It's no secret that things have fallen a bit behind on both the Superman title and Action Comics production schedule. In response, DC is putting out a few fill-in issues while the creative teams play catch-up. This issue focuses on Superman B-List villain, The Prankster. As has been the case for several of Busiek's issues on Superman, The Man of Steel plays support to events of his own title as the Prankster reveals himself as a work-for-hire villain/ performance artist more interested in the execution of his craft than in world domination.

The story lends itself to the sort of dark-spirited fun that works well within Superman comics. Superman's villains are never going to be the crew of frightening psychopths that fill the halls of Arkham Asylum, but they can be gleeful nutjobs with very, very expensive toys and a support staff of 20-something usherettes. Busiek fills in some gaps on The Prankster as he appeared in the Up, Up and Away storyline, and a meaningful look at some posters in the Prankster's HQ harkens back to changes discussed in Critical Condition.

Whether this issue knocked it out of the park is a big question mark, but it did manage to re-set the Prankster as squarely within the Superman rogues gallery and identify the sort of threat he is to the citizens of Metropolis.

Unfortunately the art by Mike Manley and Bret Blevins is fairly pedestrian, never really doing much but illustrating Busiek's script and certainly never elevating the proceedings. A cartoonish appeal might have made sense had Manley and Blevins pushed the envelope intot he surreal, but the work here looks like mid-90's fill-in art. Nothing to get excited about.

Looking forward to returning to the "Camelot Falls" story arc.



TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED 6 (of 8)

It seems a bit redundant to continue to review the primary part of each issue of Tales of the Unexpected. Like the Martian Manhunter limited series, this series feels as if it might have benefitted from being reduced from eight issues to four or five.

As with issue #5, we see a bit more evolution of the relationship between Crispus Allen and the The Spectre as Cris Allen meets The Phantom Stranger. Allen's decaying sense of humanity does little to anchor The Spectre, as his sense for justice is replaced by his desire for revenge.

The plotline of "who killed the superintendent?" which began the series continues to plod on with vague, two-dimensional characters acting in a slimy, HBO-crook manner. The certainty that everyone is guilty doesn't seem to be much of a mystery, and, ultimately, is proving to be an unnecessary distraction from the more compelling tale of Allen losing his humanity. The subplot of the John Wayne Gacy look-alike child murderer definitely crosses whatever line might have been left to keep this comic in the "fun" category, but fun doesn't seem to be the goal of writer Lapham. This is a comic intent to prove that comics aren't just for kids, no matter the title of the comic in which a character first appeared.

I didn't read Mandrake and Ostrander's run on The Spectre, but if this series was meant to launch an all-new Spectre series, it may be worth giving someone other than Lapham a crack at the concept as unstoppable, ironic deaths sort of lose their magic after a few issues.

Once again, Azzarello and Chiang's back-up feature of Dr. 13 proves to be the part of the book that readers are going to really enjoy.

A vampyah gorillah with... fahzits leanninks... Thad- is pure gol!

Indeed.

Some readers are never going to want to stray from the "bad-ass" part of comics as Batman kicks his 1,000,000th mugger in the chops, or the Punisher brutally shoots down yet another in New York's seemingly endless line of Italian-American stereotypes willing to join up with the mob. Others will eagerly leap aboard the train of absurdity that was DC's Silver Age and decry the current state of the industry as too uppity. Somehow Azzarello finds the right balance.

For readers of Azzarello's "For Tomorrow" or the final, pre-For Tomorrow run on Superman featuring Cir-El and Traci Thirteen (never collected), it's refreshing to see the good ideas which were cut down before they ever had a chance to really take off mixed in with the whimsical and fun ideas who have been intentionally forgotten in a post-DKR DCU.

I'm not entirely certain what they're calling the post-post modern age, but Azzarello is writing the right comic for a fairly literate audience with a sense of comic history. Azzarello makes it fairly clear that for every ass-kicking closet-fascist in comics, there has to be room for caped little geniuses in flight caps who can answer any question for a dime. After all, for every Spectre story in which the not-so-friendly ghost disembowels yet another chubby pervert, there should be room for French neanderthals or side-trips for comic characters to meet their makers.

It's invigorating to see the sheer lunacy of the DCU embraced with no sense of self-consciousness and dealt with in a manner both mature and better thought out than the vast majority of the Big 2's output. Certainly the storyline falls into the realm of "you'll either dig this or hate it", but rather a chance is taken than yet another joyless comic hits the shelf.

If DC doesn't somehow collect this back-up feature, we'll know they've lost their sense of fun forever.



TEEN TITANS 44

This storyline seems a bit rushed, as if Johns intended for a bit more to happen as he introduced the Titans East. There's a lot going on here, and quite a bit occurs, but as with his Green Lantern, so much is happening during the cover-to-cover fight sequences that it's tough to see character beats or progression other than through some clumsy exposition.

The bottom line is that, as a reader, I still don't feel as if i know much about abot the current Teen Titans line-up almost a year after OYL, next to nothing about the roster of Titans East, and for a guy who reads a lot of DC Comics, I'm not sure if I'm missing something here. Safe to assume that Batgirl and Ravager had a previous fight... but when? Where? Why? Why has a master assassin put together a crew of teenage jerks? When did Jericho learn how to fight?

Plus, they captured a White Martian? Really? Okay.

Rumor has it Robin's Adam Beechen is taking over this title. As much of a superstar as Johns has become, this comic feels flat out sloppy. It would have been nice to see how Beechen and Johns could compliment one another, and maybe we will. At any rate, after nearly four years of this title, I'd like to see it slow down and, as they tell me when I'm playing my cowbell, really explore the space.



WONDER WOMAN 5

And.... breathe.

It's probably now safe to believe that whatever preceeded issue 5 of the current run of Wonder Woman will not be considered the storyline that launched 1000 fans. And, if it is, more the pity on them for not checking out the work Rucka and Jimenez were doing in the series for the last few years of the last volume.

Writer Will Pfeifer tells a single issue tale (fill-ins are the only palce for single issue stories these days) which should give some context to who Wonder Woman is, and what she means to the citizens of the DCU. As always, the connection drawn between Wonder Woman's high-flying heroics and how that inspires mortal women to improve their own lot is a bit of a tenuous one... But the introduction of the Athenian Women's Shelters and the folks who run them does make the idea work.

The issue is safely free of the mess of the preceding storyline, and the cheesecake art of the Dodsons (which may have its place, but not in this context) . The secret identity remains intact, as does Wonder Woman's murder of Maxwell Lord, but it is curious to see the Department of Metahuman Affairs not treated as clubhouse and not every person reacting hysterically to the death of Maxwell Lord. Pfeifer next handles Wonder Woman in the Amazons Attack limited series arriving in April, and as of this issue, I've gone from mild interest to significant interest.

As with any comic that blends real life crime with superheroics, there will probably be accusations of this issue moralizing or taking itself too seriously. How the comic depicts domestic violence may be more stagey than what occurs in real life, and that's a problem with which the medium of superheroic comics continues to grapple. However, this reader would ten times over rather see a comic which can so readily contextualize a character and offer up the value of such a character in a few pages than six issue story-arcs featuring over-used villains and nonsensical challenges, none of which seem all that much fun as advertised.

Overall, an enjoyable issue, and much more in line with the previous volume of Wonder Woman. Hopefully the readers who started off with this series with the promise of Heinberg's Young Avengers magic will stick around to see what's coming.

In two weeks the next issue arrives as novellist Jodi Picoult comes onto the comic with artist Drew Johnson.



A decent week. Outside of the pages of 52, not a lot of hints regarding where things are going in the DCU. That's no criticism, and, in fact, what fun is it if you can second-guess every move before it occurs?

The core titles seem to be fairing pretty well, but it seems some ancillary titles may require some additional propping up. It's just a theory, but I'll be watching more comics coming from the 52 writers to see if I can see signs of fatigue in their writing. I'm trying to blame my recent disappointment in some of my favorite creator's work on over-work, so it's a trend to keep an eye on.

Again, my pick of the week is the back-up feature in Tales of the Unexpected. When I picked up my first issue of Shadowpact, I think that's a lot more in line with what I was hoping to see.



Did I get it wrong? Was Wnder Woman lame? Was that the best issue of Green Arrow ever?
Questions? Comments? Come on, I can take it.




*The piece was generally misconstrued to mean that I don't like writing to the trade. That wasn't my meaning, and my bookshelves at home are a fair proof that I have no problem with trades.