Comic Fodder

DC Comic Reviews: Week May 23, 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.



Sorry this post is up a bit after the usual Monday morning deadline. Holiday weekend + visits from family = late post. I think you'll all live.

Overall, a somewhat light and scattershot week from DC. There were some highlights and lowlights, and nothing like the preceding week's batch of mostly exciting releases.

Anyway, on to the pain!



BIRDS OF PREY 106

I’m not sure the current run of Birds of Prey is working for me. I’ve always run hot and cold on this series, including prior to Gail Simone’s run on the title. But since the issue 100 shake-up, it just feels like the Birds of Prey have been on the run and on their heels when it comes to the core purpose of the book.

Gail hasn’t sufficiently answered why Oracle didn’t simply disband the Birds of Prey rather than hanging her team out to dry for the sake of a rogue government agent. The plot since the Spy Smasher coup has felt as if it’s simply been moving forward in order to give Gail a place to write her Secret Six characters rather than putting together an engaging plot that seems worthy of spending $18 to follow. On the whole, the action feels like a throw-away story intended to fill time as Oracle circles her wagons and inevitably forces Spy Smasher out of the fold.

There’s a lesson to be learned from recent issues of ABC’s “Lost”, in that, occasionally, a little brute force may not be the “correct” solution to manipulative SOB’s, but it’s a way to at least advance the plot and move things along and at least actually find out where you stand.

Gail has pulled Geoff John’s trick of filling 22 pages with a fight rather than telling a story, while characters (never out of breath) occasionally toss out some exposition in order to keep the plot from completely grinding to a halt.

Unfortunately, Simone’s staged fight has all the feeling of reality of a Disney World stunt spectacular. It all looks like a fight, and there’s choreographed kicks and timed explosions, but you just know everybody is going to be just fine and walk off at the end of the tussle. Hence, there’s absolutely no drama. Simone’s affection for both sides in the Secret Six/ Birds of Prey face-off works itself out in “meet cute” moments, such as Huntress and Catman “flirting” up until she stabs him, and completely senseless scenes such as Spy Smasher and Deadshot in the silliest face off in recent comics memory. Why didn’t he just unload a clip into her?

My background knowledge regarding the Secret Six’s resident muscle, “Knockout”, is limited to what I saw in the Villains United and Secret Six limited series, but I’ve got a bit more understanding of Big Barda. And part of what I know is that Barda carries around an Omega Rod that blasts hellfire from one end, and which she never seems to use, even when it seems completely appropriate. At least someone out there noted that Barda would probably not run into battle with exposed cleavage/heart and pointed this fact out to the artist. Score one for common sense.

Gail has insisted that the "Dark Vengeance! Hssss!" thing is funny, but, instead, it merely added to the Keystone Cops vibe that, I suppose, Simone is trying to give off during the fight. But if that's the case, she could have done with a whole lot less fight and a whole lot more plot. There's a good idea for a character there in Misfit, but with Maxine Hunkel on the scene, Misfit and she will have to compete for the title of DC's adorable red-head fangirl-turned-superhero. I propose a five round match in the octagon.

The charms Simone brought with her to Birds of Prey haven’t been evident since DC asked for her to give up Black Canary for the move to Green Arrow. I understand that many readers will read this issue as “fun”, but the silly mismatches and cute-for-cute’s sake moments in the fight simply took me out of the story too many times. Further, so little has happened over the past few issues of the series with absolutely no character development and the unexplained absence of certain characters (Judo Master? Hellooooo…?) that it seems Simone is grasping at straws with her new direction.



WONDER WOMAN 9

Wonder Woman attempts to make sense of the events of the “Amazons Attack” storyline, and, in fact, addresses the likely scenarios which would lead to the events of the story. In a way, Wonder Woman refusing to believe the formerly dead Hippolyta is, in fact, her mother returned from the grave is a step forward for the tropes of superhero comics. Rather than wholeheartedly flinging herself at a beloved figure and buying into every word from her mouth, as would be the usual operating procedure, Diana dismisses the reappearance from Hippolyta as an illusion (with Superman there to pitch back-up on the story for having had seen Hippolyta die during “Our Worlds at War”).

In just a few short issues Jodi Picoult has found her footing as a comic writer as she’s been able to walk away a bit from the clunky DOMA set-up for Diana Prince and submerge herself in putting Wonder Woman out front as the focus of the series rather than viewing the story through the eyes of Nemesis.

Unfortunately, the Nemesis character continues to feel a bit more creepy than roguish, dropping some lines that probably sounded great in Picoult’s head, but which simply don’t translate well on the comic page. You can see Picoult attempting levity to keep the pacing of the series light and somehow fun amidst the chaos, but this sort of thing simply doesn’t ring true to characters standing in the center of a national crisis.

However, at this point the series does appear to be on a bit of an upswing. Picoult’s background as a more literary writer is shining through in refusing to allow her protagonist to mindlessly follow the plot laid out by other writers. Instead, she seems to understand a bit more about writing towards Diana’s discovery process and balancing the complications put forth in the series without allowing Wonder Woman to sink into melodramatic angst.

That said, the invasion continues to feel nonsensical. Transporting the entire population of your country to a stronghold of the world’s greatest superpower seems shortsighted at best. Further, with recent world events since prior to 9-11 are any template, any attempts at Amazonian/American reconciliation at the end of this mess are going to feel less than credible to adult readers. If the purpose was to return the Themyscirans to Earth, this seems like a poor editorial mandate to make up for the decision to have Wonder Woman wander the Earth for the duration of 52.

Readers should be curious to see where this winds up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should feel obligated to keep pace with the series or “Amazons Attack” at this point.



ROBIN 162

The pharmaceutical meta-human storyline draws to a predictable conclusion as, once again, a Super Soldier formula has turned willing test subjects into violent killing machines unaware that they very drug that’s fueling their super strength is destroying them from the inside.

In short, virtually nothing new occurs in this comic despite some interesting action scenes and writer Beechen’s decision to abruptly give the man-monsters a sympathetic, if barely convincing, background.

That isn’t to say the issue doesn’t have a lot of good moments. In fact, the resolution of the comic is quite nice, featuring a face off with Tim and a corrupt pharmaceutical CEO, the continuation of the Cassie Cain storyline (sure to outrage Batgirl fans, and a confusing bit of continuity given the events of Teen Titans), and a moment of quiet with Tim and Alfred as Tim sees justice done in the press if not in the course of his case.

At some point the Robin title needs to overcome a sense of second-class citizenship and decide what sort of title it’s going to be. Absolutely the elements of a “kid of the learning curve” should always be part and parcel of the title, but without a strong supporting cast (and it seems every writer tries and fails to establish a new supporting cast) the themes of the series have recently fallen on generic superheroics which would draw little to no attention without the strength of the Robin name emblazoned across the cover. As Nightwing and Catwoman have defined themselves, Robin desperately needs to find that voice.




SUPERMAN/BATMAN 35

Pat Lee is a terrible, terrible artist.

Somewhere within this comic lurks a story of some sort, I suspect, but it’s been crowded out by ridiculous page layout, scribbled character renderings, blocky inking and muted, muddy colors.

The story, as near as one can tell, features Lucius Fox hiring the Metal Men as corporate security for Wayne Towers. Meanwhile, apparently Superman has suffered some sort of aneurism and forgotten that Metallo isn’t just deadly to most people on Earth, he can kill Superman himself with his kryptonite heart. So, yes, of course, Superman brings him to the Batcave. Or somewhere.

This comic was really bad. I’ve sort of already wiped it from my mind. And Brainiac shows up.

Moving on.

I can’t believe this is what Eddie Berganza thinks is a worthy successor to the first twenty-six issues of this once great series.



COUNTDOWN 49

Elastic Lad!

At the conclusion of “52” the Multiverse was reborn. But, as we’re learning, the Multiverse wasn’t put together in quite the same manner as the original infinite earths. In order to maintain the Multiverse, the 52 realities seem to have spawned a watchdog race of “Monitors” who seem to patrol Earth, in particular, for signs of world-hopping anomalies, then democratically decide upon a fate for the anomalies.

So when Jimmy Olsen stretches out like Plastic Man, which he hasn’t done in decades, is it any wonder that Jimmy Olsen Must DIE? (ed. note: Jimmy Olsen will probably get an undue amount of attention in these reviews. Get used to it.) Clearly Jimmy is showing signs of his Silver Age transformations, which readers can only hope means that a disguise kit, Turtle Boy, Werewolf Jimmy and Enormous Future Brain Jimmy are all close behind. Why? Because transforming Jimmy Olsens are what Mr. Action is all about.

And, of course, Red Hood/ dead Jason Todd’s identity is still bandied about by anyone with a cell phone.

After expressly being asked to avoid Gotham City last issue, Mary Marvel heads immediately for Batland, only to find a still-murderous former Khandaqi Despot hiding in the rafters.

There’s also a sort of lame scene with Red Arrow and a pissed-off Karate Kid in the JLA’s Watchtower, that sort of reminds readers that comedy is hard. Plus a scene with the rogues as the questionable recidivism of the Pied Piper was recalled and the Piper of the Geoff Johns run on The Flash seemingly reappears for a brief stint.

The issue also features a back-up feature of The History of the Multiverse, that’s surprisingly strong reading, especially in light of the “52” back-[up feature of the History of the DCU.

At this point, it’s still far, far too early in the game to begin to make informed judgment calls regarding the direction of Countdown, or the success of the series from a narrative point of view. However, the foundations of the series are beginning to show.

Readers will be thrilled to learn that I’ll be partnering with another writer to discuss the DCU against the backdrop of Countdown in a series of columns beginning this week. So, hopefully readers can tune in for that coverage and discussion for a deeper level of analysis.




SUPERGIRL AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES 30

Waid wraps up the Dominators storyline in fine DC tradition, one-step ahead of what readers would guess but with a logical and still exhilarating conclusion. In many ways, the Dominators storyline should have marked the point at which Waid felt he had hit his stride with this sometimes floundering team book. Characters have become more clearly defined, dangling plot-threads have wound back together and all-new storylines and possibilities have opened for the next year or so of the series.

Unfortunately, Waid’s Legion has struggled with plot over-riding the need for better definition of characters in such a sprawling cast and an assumption of a priori Legion knowledge that many readers may not have brought to the series. Thirty issues is a very, very long time for a writer to finally get comfortable, and it seems that the knowledge that he was leaving the series may have finally taken the edge off for Waid and allow him to quit trying to tell Legion stories he felt were worthy of the name, and simply tell good super-hero stories.

What will probably be remembered best about the series will be the conflicting and far more enjoyable portrayal of Supergirl in Waid’s title versus the Supergirl ongoing series. Waid’s Supergirl seemed more of the traditional Silver and Bronze Age Kara Zor-El with a bit of a loopy side but a recognizable heroic streak. However, the unexplained time displacement may have worked against interest in the book as DC decided to play coy, or, most likely, figured they could write a way out of it when the time came.

Sadly, the future of the Legion title in any format seems uncertain. With new writers coming on and continued marginal sales on the book, only time and the Comic Gods can tell what will become of the series within a year.



That's it for this week, Legionnaires. I'm curious as to what you were picking up and dropping. If you've got comments upon Amazons Attack, if you feel Robin is hitting on all cylinders, or if I've just got this whole Birds of Prey thing down totally wrong.

Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.



=======


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