Comic Fodder

DC Comic Reviews: Week March 28, 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.



We're feeling charitable, and will thusly call it a mixed week. On to the pain.



WONDER WOMAN 6

Cancel it. Sweet mother of God, put it out of its pain. And mine.

I have this theory: DC Editor-Guy-in-Charge is from the wild world of Hollywood where people believe in a little something called Star Power. When I was in film school, we literally had to study the phenomenon known as Star Power. The idea behind Star Power is that it doesn't matter how good or bad your script, your director, your cast, your crew, your marketing, your actual film... If you don't cast Ashton Kutscher in the lead, nobody will see your movie. And there's some truth to this theory. Post Pulp Fiction, people were lining up to see all kinds of junk because of John Travolta's re-acquired status as somebody fun to watch in a flick.

Comics have characters, but no actors, and so Didio can revert to Hollywood Plan B: Acquiring a Star with prior success in a non-acting position and applying it to a new project, whether it makes sense or not. This can include putting Akiva Goldsman on more cape-and-tight projects (ignoring the fact everyone went to see Batman & Robin out of loyalty and then ran in horror from the franchise), or pull in a Barton Fink scenario in which a writer from another medium is asked to translate their work to film (in our case, comics). This is usually done to give a film/comic some hint of respectability it doesn't deserve and so that a producer/ editor-in-charge-guy can say "Look, I got Jodi Picoult! Her books sell at Target!"

What's curious is that part and parcel of bringing in The Star is that producers/ editor-in-charge-guys know that when they bring in The Star, they're pretty much going to have to let The Star do whatever they want. In the world of film or TV, it doesn't really matter. Films are self-contained vehicles, and if The Star crash-lands in a film, that Star's career will begin to dwindle (see Ashton Kutscher). What's of more concern is when that Star can take down an entire franchise (see: Rumors of casting Kutscher a Superman by almost-Superman director McG). And so, increasingly, franchises are built on the franchise... not an actor.

Comics are a different animal. Serial fiction doesn't lend itself to folks coming in for a few issues with no real preconceived notion of what's occurred before in the comics. Moreover, the medium doesn't lend itself particularly well to writers unfamiliar with how to break a story down to 22 pages, panel-by-panel, and with a feel towards what's important to fans of a comic. If The Star comes in and drops the ball for a half-year's worth of comics in our current standard of six-issue arcs, the damage done can be phenomenal. Comic companies can lose a large part of their hard-won fan base, and the next creative team can be left holding the bag and trying to pick up the pieces.

It's unclear who Ms. Picoult was writing towards, as it certainly wasn't the established Wonder Woman fan base. Or, really, fans of DC Comics in general as her understanding of Wondy and the past few years of DC history seems spotty, at best. Certainly there wasn't overwhelming fanboy clamor to bring Jodi Picoult over from the world of fantasy fiction to comics. The likelihood that DC was going to pull a maneuver like bringing established-fanboy-non-sexual-crush Joss Whedon to X-Men with Picoult's arrival on Wonder Woman seems entirely unlikely. Or perhaps someone at DC saw those Picoult books at Target next to "Chicken Soup for the Soul" and "Marley & Me" and thought this market might follow her over... Who knows?

If this issue had been written by an established comic writer, it's safe to say most readers might have found this issue fairly insulting. No sense of rhythm, no sense of Wonder Woman save for the pilot of the Lynda Carter series... The idea seems to be that in finding a "human" identity, Wonder Woman is a complete Innocent, and therefore a moron. It's an odd bit of Borscht-belt/ Borat-style comedy thinking, especially given prior continuity.

As much as one can appreciate Ms. Picoult flexing her creative talents, it's fairly obvious that her Star Power superseded the usual pitch/ accept pitch/ refine concept working practice that normally takes place in comic creation. Without the name "Picoult" associated with this script, it's unbelievable this issue would have seen print, no matter how far the LAST Star threw the production of Wonder Woman off schedule.

If we want to blame anyone (and, oh... we do), it's Didio and Idleson for having so little respect for their audience that they were willing to release this disappointment after much hype of Picoult's arrival. There's no way anyone who saw pages prior to the issue's release thought that this comic was of even average quality for DC.

Plot? Wonder Woman is now a child-like goof who can't work a turn-style or figure it out by observation. And Circe dresses up like Wondy (again?) to wreak havoc (again). And Drew Johnson forgets that he's an amazing artist.

I'm dropping Wonder Woman. Which kills me. I didn't discover the character until the Phil Jimenez run, and I've been busy playing catch-up with the George Perez collections, a few other collections and a few back issues. It seemed DC was finally, finally taking Wondy seriously with Countdown to Infinite Crisis and Infinite Crisis.

Not so much.



FIRESTORM 34

New Gods! McDuffie! A Life Equation?! Sure, whatever! I'm on board.

This book is already headed for the chopping block, so the use of Firestorm as some sort of springboard to remind readers about the bizarre cool factor of Kirby's Fourth World is okay by this reader. And, in fact, given the pseudo-science mumbo-jumbo bandied about for the previous 33 issues of this series regarding the Firestorm Matrix, and the pre-existing notion that our Nuclear Man was an avatar of some Fireforce... okay, whatever.

This issue is fun. Sure, we see the supposedly deadly Female Furies get clobbered once again (why Darkseid hasn't Omega Beamed them for failure to complete a single mission is a mystery best left to Mr. Despotic Dark'n'Spooky), but McDuffie pulls it off in style. There's a good bit of exposition that runs through the mostly-action issue, especially as our pal in the Mobius Chair gets himself involved.

Not even McDuffie could have saved this series from the perpetual non-starter of an idea that was the Jason Rusch relaunch. Fundamentally, the idea of the hero who is more than one person probably doesn't work, unless you want to talk Voltron. Just when I was about to drop the title, the editors always managed to give me some reason or other to stick with the comic. And, had the New Gods not popped up, it's unlikely I would have stuck through the conclusion of this series with or without McDuffie.

A few nitpicks:

-Mad Harriet is bottomless. IE: sans pantalones. Either her formfitting one piece is the same color as her flesh, or she might need to be renamed Naturalist Harriet. The costume on the cover has nothing to do with the one in the comic.
-Bernadeth is Darkseid's sister. One wonders what punishment might befall the 6 year-old in a teenagers body who drops her in the middle of an ocean.
- Will someone at DC decide on a standard look for the Parademons?

That is all.



BLUE BEETLE 13

My Local Comic Shop manager rides mostly on the Marvel side of the fence, but as he's a responsible LCS manager, he does bother to read DC's output. I can't say this for the shop I frequented in Arizona, and was often stunned to find the manager insulting the very comics I was paying for (and thus putting food in the mouth of his newborn baby), and continued to see a bizarre Marvel partisanship even after management changed hands and up to four employees could be found behind the counter on Wednesdays, now ALL of them articulating confusion as per my preference to Superman over, say, Marvel's "Stabby McGee".

Anyhoo, my LCS Manager was discussing Blue Beetle, and came down hard on the title. His argument was, and I hesitate to paraphrase, but somewhere along lines of "I don't feel like this series is speaking to me an as adult." And then went on to discuss how the newly promised, bad-ass Back in Black Spider-Man was the only Spider-Man that made sense to him as a reader. Who could be jolly while knocking out thugs?

There are probably fifteen different answers to this question, but that's a Spider Column for another day. That, and with upcoming Spider-Man 3 tie-in's, I thought the direction of Back in Black looked fairly obvious...

But to my point vis-a-vis Blue Beetle:

Blue Beetle hearkens back a bit to a different age when heroes didn't have to have a tragedy befall them on the road to heroism. Heck, finding a shiny, bluish, beetle gem was all that was needed to get someone to put on goggles, strip down to their underwear and slug a thug. The current volume of Blue Beetle is not a revenge story, or a story about stabbing people. It's a fairly light-hearted look at a kid in way over his head, whose biggest heroic aspirations include putting out fires and maybe figuring out what this Beetle thing is living on his spine.

Our hero's family has beaten the odds and has survived having a super heroic son, including full knowledge of his secret identity, which, from a narrative standpoint, makes far more sense than the inevitable "Jaime, are you on drugs?" conversation which hits every teen super hero book sooner or later.

The biggest problem is that the book just hasn't managed to be all that exciting. A lot of things occur in Blue Beetle, but not a lot happens. Sure, they're finally explaining Beetle's origin, but the dragged-out fight in issue 12 and the not-so-subtle invading alien stuff in this issue all screams for narrative economy. A better writer could have easily melded the last two issues of this series together into one, 22-page story. Unfortunately, it also seems that the big plan for Blue Beetle was to tweak the plot of the first 13 issues of Invincible and claim the rebel-alien-invader concept as their own. But you're not going to win that race.

It would be a shame to see this book go dark in order to find relevancy among readers. To see a bad-ass Blue beetle seems almost antithetical to the whole concept. A "fun" read shouldn't have to look exactly like Batman, or any of the post-Dark Knight Returns pissed off anti-heroes. But it also doesn't necessarily mean aimlessly zipping about El Paso, either.

One other comment my LCS Manager dropped was that he felt Blue Beetle could benefit from being dragged into the mainstream DCU one way or another. On this he and I concur. Surely there could be a place for Jaime on the Titans? As Batman seems to know all about Beetle, surely he'd vouch for the guy? Or finding a place among other unknowns in the DCU?

Next month brings us the return of Guy Gardner, and with this issues "revelations" regarding the use of the Beetle scarab, it looks like we're going full-circle to the beginning of issue 1. It's about @#$% time.



GREEN LANTERN 18

Some older DC Comics readers tend to tilt toward annoyed when older characters are given a motivation other than mustache-twirling evil. DC, and especially Geoff Johns, has been making an effort to write a more fully-fleshed out origin and background for many of the stock villains from DC's past. I'm not exactly clear as to why some of these readers don't want for even the silliest of villains to have a believable motivation, but the kind of updating-sans-revisionism that Johns has managed to pull off again and again serves to give the DCU more dimension and believability for readers, and less hand clapping just because a familiar villain shows up for fight #354.

Issue 18 of Green Lantern manages to summarize the life of Carol Ferris, her shaky relationship with Green Lantern Hal Jordan, reintroduce Tom Kalmaku, and reintroduce the Star Sapphire with a bit of background and a nod towards Johns' vision of yet another deadly piece of cosmic jewelry. Given how little information is shared in the average 22 page comic, it's remarkable to note that most of that territory is covered in the first few pages of this issue before Johns gives in once again to his desire to toss his heroes headlong into battle.

The basic gist is that the Star Sapphire in a conscious alien entity that, for reasons that aren't spelled out in this issue, wants Hal to be its cosmic baby daddy. Fair enough. We can wait to see why. But it also, sorta explains the painted-on pink stripper suit. Our female readership may be surprised to learn that (straight) men enjoy looking at the naked and mostly-naked female form. It's a weak-assed excuse for turning Star Sapphire into Striperella (and why the mask if everything is exposed..?) , but I think it's a better excuse than a lot of the rationalizing that goes into Wonder Woman's outfit.

I'm not too sure what I think about Star Sapphire trying to clobber Hal Jordan and anyone close to him in order to get knocked up. Apparently this alien queen never heard about buying a guy a drink at a bar. Too bad. This comic could have taken a far different direction involving Barry White records and an awkward next morning sequence.

The art by Daniel Acuna is stellar, even if a bit stylized for some readers' tastes. I was sold as of page 2, with the inverted Carol Ferris in a barrel roll bit, but was very impressed with his feeling for use of light. Good stuff.

This month debuts the new feature "Tales of the Sinestro Corps" by writer Geoff Johns and artist Dave Gibbons. The feature gives Johns a bit of room to flex some fairly ugly but creative ideas and set the stage for what kind of menaces readers can expect in the inevitable Sinestro Corps/ GL Corps confrontation. The story is a tight 6 pages, and while a lot of the action is described in narrative captions, it still works.



ACTION COMICS 847

Folks who shelled out $8.00 to see Superman Returns last summer may have noted that Superman Returns wasn't actually an action movie. Sure, there was a villain, and some flying around, and people were generally threatened, but... Superman never looked ol' Lex squarely in the eye nor knocked him into the stratosphere. In fact, in some ways, Lex got in the last word in that particular argument.

I'm not exactly sure what it is about the star of Action Comics, but a great number of his comics, episodes of his TV shows, and in two of his last five movies, there isn't actually all that much fighting going on. In some ways, the Ace of Action seems to be very much at home in tales about screwing with Lois's mind, responsibility of dudes with power, what a guy will do for love and (of course) lifting heavy objects.

As Action Comics struggles to get somewhere back on schedule, readers are treated to this single issue (but still tied back to continuity) fill-in by writer and former Justice League Unlimited Producer Dwayne McDuffie and artist Renato Guedes. This is a sort-of lifting heavy objects issue.

As Metropolis is ransacked by an angry horde of Phantom Zone criminals and Superman has gone off the map, back at the Kent Farm, Ma and Pa Kent sit up late and do a bit of worrying. In order to help calm some of Ma Kent's anxieties, Pa Kent relates a story to Martha about how he and Clark had pretended to go fishing, but had secretly gone into space in a Kryptonian craft. While taking a tour of the cosmos, Clark assisted a ship in distress that was, itself, supposed to be assisting a planet in distress.

The Superman-assists-weird-aliens twist is a bit reminiscent of pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman tales as Maggin or others seemed to occasionally just toss Superman into space to face some faceless threat or other. But the point of the story is to suggest that Clark Kent faces seemingly unbeatable threats (such as Sun Eaters) quite frequently, and with little or no recognition from his adopted home world.

One issue fill-ins often seem to wind up as little Superman homilies as writers are given only an issue or two to reflect upon Superman as a character, who he is, and what makes him work as a hero. McDuffie manages to throw a big enough threat at Superman, works in excellent bits of characterization, and tells a fairly solid one-issue story that might seem fairly common for long time Superman readers, but isn't the kind of tale you can really find in the pages of too many other characters.

Most likely this issue will find its place as a back-up in any collected edition of the current run on Action Comics, but it was still a fun read. Just not really one that knocked it out of the ballpark.

Art by Renato Guedes focuses mostly on characters, leaving out a lot of background information once the story takes our characters into space, but he draws a great Superman and Fortress of Solitude.



BATMAN 664

It's far too early to say much about this new story-arc for Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert on the heels of the "Batman and Son" storyline. In fact, not a whole lot happens. In fact, pages 2 and 3 are a two-page spread of snowy mountains that would make Bob Ross proud. But leave me a bit puzzled. My comic just went from 22 pages to 20.

Morrison introduces a new Bruce Wayne romantic interest with a dangerous past and big, scary body guards. There's a bit more of the playboy routine, and then Batman beating up cops in Gotham, which leads to some sort of Bane/Hug Strange's Monster Men/Batman dude who gets the drop on the caped crusader.

I'll be watching to see what Morrison was planning to do with this, but after the text-heavy/ no comic issue of Batman, it appears Morrison is going for some sort of page-count payout rather than actually delivering much in the way of story.

Andy Kubert's art is pretty nice, if not very, very good... but aside from the last name "Kubert", I'm not really sure why DC is giving him such a pass on his slow output. There are literally two dozen artists drawing things this well with none of the clout the Kubert name brings to the table. This comic, just to fact-check, came out a month late.



I was going to do more, but I'm tired. It's been a busy week, and you ungrateful cretins never post comments, anyway.

God knows who reads this column...

Anyway, Wonder Woman was awful, Action Comics passable, Green Lantern a bit sexually confusing, but okay...

What did you like? Hate? Find odd or questionable?

Come on, I can take it.


As a voice of the lurkers, let me tell you that I read this column. I no longer by the individual issues but I do like to keep a sense of what's good and what's bad so I can purchase the TPB (or not) when the time comes. Particularly interesting here is how bad Wonder Woman has become...

-- Posted by: Brian at April 2, 2007 1:13 PM

"Interesting" is one way of putting it, Brian.

Thanks for saying "howdy". I can't tell you how much more gratifying it is to put brain to column when you know you've got even one reader.

-- Posted by: ryan at April 2, 2007 2:30 PM

I love review cloumns. Some are better than others, in this case, better. I'm on the can't afford my comics side of the fence so review columns like this let me know what's going on and what's good.

-- Posted by: Josh at April 2, 2007 3:23 PM

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Josh. We'll try to make sure we give you something to look forward to on a regular basis.

-- Posted by: ryan at April 2, 2007 4:18 PM

Have faith Ryan, for everyone one of us that speaks up there's 100 others that casually reads the column. You tend to think like I do in regards to critically evaluating a book. So when you get a chance, keep it coming...

Now if only someone could point me to such critical reviews on TPBs themselves. :)

-- Posted by: Brian at April 3, 2007 10:26 AM

Hmmm. Well, I'll see what I can do to cover TPB's from time-to-time. It's not like I'm not reading the occasional collection or graphic novel.

Let me talk to Shawn and see what we can do.

-- Posted by: ryan at April 3, 2007 12:46 PM

Ryan,

Your WONDER WOMAN #6 review is incredibly insightful. There really is nothing more to say in regard to Wonder Woman and DC because, quite frankly, you said all that really needs to be said.

Now, someone just needs to send your review to Dan DiDio. I already posted it in my MySpace bulletin.

Brilliant.

-Bobby

-- Posted by: Robert Jones, Jr. at April 3, 2007 5:05 PM

You guys are going to make my head swell. Thanks for all the support.

I'll try my hardest to make sure that Comic Fodder lives up to the nice things you guys have to say about it.

-- Posted by: ryan at April 3, 2007 10:50 PM

My friend Stan pointed out something that Grant Morrison said in X-Men: Omnibus that I think readily applies in this situation. Morrison said that comics fans will read the comics no matter what. He goes on to urge that their job as creators is not to cater to such persons [comic fans] but to secure new fans.

So you better believe that your loyalty is completely unappreciated, even by the people who profit it from it. As long as there's a population out there that might be larger than you are, it's their job to cater to them, regardless of how faithful you think you might have been. To the publishers, it's truly just business.

-- Posted by: Robert Jones, Jr. at April 5, 2007 12:40 AM

Affirmative on that one, Robert Jones, Jr. There's definitely a column's worth of response to this, and I'll try to get to it, ASAP.

-- Posted by: ryan at April 5, 2007 12:49 AM