Comic Fodder

DC Comic Reviews: Week May 16, 2007 Part 1

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.



Sorry for the split review again this week. I had the best of intentions to finish this evening, and then a non-comic reading friend decided to have a bit of a cook-out. What can I say, it's summertime in Texas. When someone fires up the grill, you do not skip out just so you can sit in the dark writing comic reviews.

I thought both of you reading this review would understand.


This week seemed to signal a bit of what I assumed had to happen with DC in the mid-OYL editorial fallout. over the past several months many things were tried. Now, the tape and bubblegum editorial patches are beginning to smooth over and real plans are put into place. Overall, DC came in pretty strong this week with a lot of books that have either been terminally delayed or have been seeing fill-ins, etc...

I was genuinely surprised going through my stack as I finished comic after comic and, whether I felt the issue was executed perfectly or not, at least found something to enjoy in almost every title.

So, I'm not really sure if, this week actually qualifies an "On to the pain!" But here we go...




ACTION COMICS 849

It’s difficult to say whether writer Fabian Nicieza wimped out on this one or simply had a certain point of view regarding the concept of faith within the DC Universe.

DC seems to be using the fill-in stories on the Superman and Batman titles to see what is possible when writers are limited to one or two issue stories, and the results are more than satisfactory. In fact, given the complicated back-story that was hinted at in the exposition, the arc could well have stretched to three issues without feeling as if it were dragging, and that may have saved the issue from some of the “telling” rather than “showing” that occurs in this issue.

Superman confronts Super Choir-Boy, Redemption, as Redemption attempts to protect missionaries in a fictional African nation utilizing the decidedly MO of incinerating the hostile government agents. Seemingly powered by the faith of his congregation, Redemptions powers are a match for those of Superman, until they aren’t, and Superman breaks Redemption’s arm.

Superman has Oracle do some digging on the Good Reverend introduced in the previous issue and learns that the GR was involved in a massive, catastrophic event during World War II in which he unleashed powers similar to those associated with Redemption. And, in fact, the faith of the congregation may have nothing to do with the powers of Redemption at all.

There are a multitude of weighty issues embedded in a mere 22 pages (44 if you want to count April’s issue). Superman barely touches upon the rights of unwanted missionaries working in hostile third world nations, but there’s certainly a suggestion by Superman that the missionaries have to use their noodle before wandering into the path of gunfire (an all too real concern). What the comic does not touch upon is the sort of thinking regarding missionary work that led to statements such as those recently made by The Pope.

Perhaps most disappointing, Superman was given an escape route which diluted the pitch which had made the first issue so intriguing. What did it mean if Redemption were powered by the faith of others? What did it mean about the faith of those others that they seemed willing to use their power for the death of others? Were they even aware?

Instead Nicieza gives Superman an easy out, and then presents the small town churchgoers as giving up on the leader of their flock, which further diminishes the notion of faith. How many spiritual leaders, in admitting weakness, manage to not just keep their flock but may even build it on the foundation of being an imperfect person seeking perfection? The evacuation of the church, in many ways, seems hollow as the congregation chooses Superman over a man they’ve no doubt shared meals with, spent years witnessing him in the pulpit, and who has brought a new level of power to their congregation which only the word of Superman seems to repudiate. How much more satisfying a story might this have been had Nicieza not backed down and scrubbed the story clean of messy situations and morally gray areas?

As comics mature into an adult medium, the realities of the world should be reflected in the content and messages of the comic page. This sort of wishy-washy “win-win” storyline barely fits into the world of moral certainty that superhero comics are evolving from. While some readers express frustration that Superman comics are about Superman “whining” about moral decision making with his tremendous power, it’s difficult to present a situation such as this which backs away from presenting Superman with an absolute moral stance. In the end, this sort of tale satisfies no one.

Still, all in all, not a bad issue of Action Comics. Just not one that lives up to the potential of the premise.




ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN, THE BOY WONDER 5

This is going to probably lose me friends and any credibility I ever had… But I sort of liked this issue.

For the first time I could see what Miller is trying to do, and it took bringing in a lot more of the heroes DC readers are familiar with in order to get to that point. In a way, it’s an indictment of the first four issues, but I think I get it. Miller thinks all of the Superfriends are insane. And he’s totally comfortable with that idea. And, in this context, I guess I am, too.

A quick glance around the interwebs will inform you that many, many readers found Wonder Woman’s captioned inner-monologue to be a bit preposterous, but for a character who is routinely ridiculed for having no personality, Miller seems to have found one. Sure, it’s not the voice of reason, but I suspect that in his own way, Miller has spent more time channeling the idea of what it would mean to come from an island of women Greek soldiers who’ve turned on man’s world and made themselves into a force that will never be enslaved again. Isn’t it possible that re-entering man’s world might leave such a soldier a bit… irritable? Two thousand years, and this is what they’ve built? Apparently Miller isn’t buying into the whole idea of loving submission. And you have to imagine this Wonder Woman’s version of bullets and bracelets might be a bit more exciting.

Readers may also have to raise an eyebrow at Miller’s Superman as a guy who responds to a woman with power and the ability to use it.

On the heels of Sin City, Miller is going to take flak for writing near any female character, mostly for the fact that the women of Sin City are prostitutes, strippers and grifters. But I think there’s more Elektra here than Goldie. He’s written a Wonder Woman he can buy, just as he seems to have written a JLA he can buy.

Moreover, we finally see Batman running rooftop to rooftop in a way that we haven’t seen since Dark Knight Returns, as we see the bizarre glee that it might take to become a singularly driven urban vigilante (who just happens to dress as a blue bat). The tactician is still there, but there’s probably a cleaner line between this Batman and the Batman of Dark Knight Returns than any of the past twenty years of portrayals of Batman (no matter how “crazy” some creators and editors tried to portray the Dark Knight).

Is this an inappropriate portrayal of the Justice League? It certainly doesn’t match the heroes as the beacons of light that Ross and others would have readers see. But it’s also a fundamentally more understandable approach. These gods are broken, misshapen people, with Superman at the core trying to speak a bit of reason into the maelstrom. Say what you will about the end product, but he’s staying true to a certain point of view, and that’s something superhero comics don’t see nearly enough.

That said, the dialog lacks the poetic flair that Miller brought to his earlier work, including Wonder Woman’s repetitive captions and speeches. And, honestly, Jim Lee is probably not the best fit for the series. In many ways, Miller’s style is so identifiable with his art at this point that nobody may be able to draw for Miller anymore but Miller.

This perspective on the DCU may be ugly and unnatural to many readers, but so too was Dark Knight Returns to readers who could never see Batman any way but the way in which they first found the character. It’s been twenty years since DKR. Surely the DCU can handle this sort of manhandling once again.



BATMAN 665

The mystery which began with the first issue of Morrison writing deepens. In fact, any reader who can tell me where this story is going (and get it right) gets a shiny gold star.

The smaller incidents of the previous issues begin to tie back together in a mix of Batman’s “black case book” (which seems to be code for Batman’s X-Files), genetic engineering, and Talia Al Ghul’s plans for the Dark Knight.

Morrison is handling Bruce Wayne and Batman as remarkably human, but with a will of solid steel. It’s an interesting take, given the jerk/loner-Batman that Bob Schreck’s editorship seemed to dictate prior to the OYL shake-up, and a welcome change at that.

The art in the book is by the Kubert brother who can eventually hand in his work, even if it’s late (versus the one who can’t hand it in at all). And the results aren’t half-bad. Andy Kubert is his father’s son, and this sort of well-rendered art should be DC’s hall-mark on their flagship titles.

Personally, I’m just enjoying the mystery. Like a few other titles which were released this week, this is a comic I’m very much looking forward to picking up again next month.




CHECKMATE 14

The “Checkout” story continues, far less nonsensically than Part II, which appeared in last week’s Outsiders.

The giant monster from the last issue is quickly smote (smited?) and Rucka gets back to the issue at hand, placing teams composed of various members of the Outsiders and Checkmate regulars in position for a quick insertion onto Oolong Island to hack the database and then get out.

Because this is Checkmate, the maneuvering within the organization comes up as Captain Boomerang II accidentally/casually mentions his involvement with Amanda Waller’s secret Task Force X. Unfortunately, rather than gather that information, Sasha and Nightwing spend time discussing Sasha’s brief history with Batman, a topic which seems a natural for what I believe to be the first meeting between Bordeaux and the former Boy Wonder.

The back-and-forth of the Checkmate/Outsiders cross-over is interesting, but also hi-lights the differing approaches to action comics that two seemingly like-minded writers might take. Unfortunately, Rucka’s more cerebral approach seems a bit hampered by last issue’s superhero action which seemed to come from Winick.

Nonetheless, the story-arc is an interesting read, and seems to serve the purpose of tying Checkmate more tightly back into an increasingly “universal” DCU.



NEXT TIME: Countdown! The Flash! Justice League of America! Supergirl 17!

So, you probably hated All Star Batman, but you bought it and read it, anyway. That's weird. Why would you do that? Also, I'm curious as to other thoughts on Action Comics.

What did I get right? What was wrong? Was Miller's Wonder Woman really that awful?

Come on, I can take it.



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Ryan is your resident reviewer of DC Comics. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas. He likes Superman.
ryan@filmfodder.com