Comic Fodder

DC Comic Reviews: Week May 2, 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.



Hope everyone had a good Free Comic Book Day/ Cinco de Mayo/ Kentucky Derby.

This week saw the conclusion of DC's groundbreaking series, 52. We'll have a column up on that topic in fairly short order, so I invite you to return sometime in the very near future to tell me what I got wrong on that column. As such, no review of 52's final issue this week.




THE ALL-NEW ATOM 11

Ryan Choi slips further into "unsympathetic" territory as he continues to play Pip to Jia's Estella, only with oddly dressed ghostly former underworld figures thrown into the mix. The ghosts decide to draw in Choi's father, which leads to Choi getting a kiss from our resident black widow and a battle atop a statue. It's all very operatic, but I couldn't muster much interest. I had intended to skip this month's issue and just wait until we got down to brass tacks with "The Search for Ray Palmer" instead of this odd, convoluted and probably pointless (but well illustrated) storyline.

Part of my personal interest in The Atom has always been the pseudo-sciency aspect of the character, and with the story straying into the realm of semi-omnipotent undead, the two sides of the science vs. myth conflict seem to miss one another by a country mile, leaving our hero mostly flailing about until a deus ex machina story element appears in the wizened granny.

I just don't buy it.

Dwarfstar may have been a bit silly, but as Ryan Choi's opposite number, he made complete sense. His powers were based in similar science, although Dwarfstar himself was the anti-intellectual sociopath. There seemed to be a legitimate challenge for Choi to outwit Dwarfstar using his understanding of physics and how to most intelligently use the technology at his disposal. This storyline... eh.

It's also becoming increasingly problematic that Ryan Choi didn't design the Atom hardware, and Gail seems reluctant to make use of the possibilities presented by abilities posed by the hardware. Instead of microscopic creativity, this issue could have featured any Joe off the street. And that leaves me wondering why I'm reading a title called "The Atom".

Bring on Ray Palmer.



CHECKMATE 13

Rucka's Checkmate takes on Winick's Outsiders.

In the first several issues of Ben Edlund's "The Tick," The Tick explains his power as being "Nigh-Invulnerable', or as invulnerable as the storyline requires. Many authors with an idea for a particular story employ this same tactic in regards to their established super-powered characters, seemingly reducing a character's powers, strength, character or basic intellect for a few pages in order to ensure the characters are overwhelmed and placed into a situation in which they would not normally agree to participate. Want for Batman to fight his way out of an underground fight club? He can uncharacteristically drop his guard and wander about a darkened alleyway, allowing himself to be abducted into a van. Sure, why not?

As always, Rucka keeps the trust with his readership, and instead of asking for that willing suspension of disbelief, spends some time actually pondering the fictional parameters of the DCU. This first chapter of a multi-issue crossover between Checkmate and Outsiders remains true to the current continuity of the DC characters it portrays, as well as the extensive resources and methods that would be necessary to bring in super powered characters in questions. The vast majority of the issue is spent seeing what has to happen in order to bring in characters who can go toe-to-toe with the Monsieur Mallah and The Brain. Surely Winick's shared writer credit ensured that Rucka would treat his pet characters with respect, and, in the end, it was the right call.

Unfortunately, the story is a multi-part cross-over, most likely intended to get readers of the more popular Outsiders to sample the better plotted Checkmate. There's little doubt Rucka will have trouble handling the larger-than-life characters of the Outsiders, but it's very possible WInick's broad-stroked approach will be a poor fit for the Machiavellian intrigue of Checkmate, not to mention to mention Rucka's delicate handling of covert ops.

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Nothing resembling this scene occurs during the action of this comic. But, hey, look! Sasha and Mr. Terrific are both pretty cool.

Rucka's fly-on-the-wall/ barely in context peek into Checkmate's operations continues to be a fascinating ride through the DCU's world of political intrigue and management of high-level threats.

Joe Bennet's pencils are a different look for the title, but inker Jack Jadson's use of heavy blacks helps to maintain the established shadowy, murky world presented in Checkmate since issue 1.

Keep your eyes glued to this cross-over as a candidate for one of the more interesting DC story lines that few will discover as it competes for attention with Supergirl's navel and that minor change-up as DCU returns to a Multi-verse.



DETECTIVE COMICS 832

Sometimes we should know there's going to be trouble from the solicitation copy:

Terror comes in threes! The nefarious Terrible Trio returns, only instead of being the hunters, they're the prey! And the only one who can save them from certain death is their deadly adversary — Batman!

Batman is a deadly adversary? I suspect that either the intern who writes the solicits in unfamiliar with the DCU, or else DC has written an action script which allows the marketing department to enter in names for "victim" and "adversary", and the solicit writes itself. Sort of like this comic.

Who is Royal McGraw? Google doesn't provide much in the way of an answer, and while the name popped up, I believe, in previous fill-in issues of Detective, I'm somewhat-inclined to believe Royal McGraw is a pseudonym. However, there's a Royal McGraw working in LA as a writer on TV and film. I'm thus inclined to believe he's a friend of the current DC administration and their TV-heavy roots.

McGraw's fill-in one-shot follows Batman as he begins unravelling the mystery of the death of one of the Terrible Trio, as "The Shark" is found dead at sea, his teeth yanked from his head. Unwilling to allow even the terrible trio to end up taking a dirt nap, he resolves to solve the crime, somehow knowing the exact abandoned Gotham building to which "The Fox" might retreat. A bit of an oddity that, as "The Fox" reveals that "The Fourth Man" who is pursuing him seems to have intimate knowledge of the Terrible Trio. So, obviously, one would then run to a known hide-out?

A super-genius this super-villain is not.

Wolves are sicced upon the caped crusader, and rather than utilize any of the 200 non-lethal options which he regularly employs from his utility belt, Batman kills the wolves. And the reader raises an eyebrow, wondering exactly how many other Batman comics this McGraw fellow has read. And how editorial let that one go to print.

Really, nothing about the rest of the mystery makes sense as the murderer is revealed as previously known criminal from the comics (readers: pay heed to how I keep the review spoiler free!), is given a bizarre new mutation which has gone previously unmentioned. And no motive whatsoever for committing his crimes other than that he was cuh-razy.

Royal McGraw is new to the DCU, and perhaps he has a decent Batman story in him. This one was not it.

Mr. Dini, we all patiently await your return.



GREEN LANTERN 19

"Mystery of the Star Sapphire" continues as Hal Jordan performs some high-flying stunt work to escape the new Star Sapphire while simultaneously listening to a boat-load of exposition.

In many ways, this story-arc is allowing writer Geoff Johns to do what Johns does best: clarify and deepen the mythos of existing DC properties without the burden of re-imagining those properties. In this case, the silver age villain Star Sapphire is the focus of Johns' attentions, and once again Johns manages to redefine a character without rewriting their entire history.

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I'm not really sure why they have the incorrect person portraying Star Sapphire on the cover, but it's still a nifty cover.

Unfortunately, like many of Johns' projects, despite a heavy dose of exposition, there's a certain expectation of prior DCU knowledge expected of the reader. In this case, it doesn't hurt to know a bit about the Zamarons (the lady-friends of the Guardians of the Universe), Hal's prior relationship with Carol Ferris (a topic almost entirely ignored since about 1995), and the long, complicated career of Ferris as Star Sapphire. Whether a first time reader would be able to follow the twists and turns is probably doubtful. But for readers with a bit of familiarity, the development of the Star Sapphire as the tool of the Zamarons in spreading their message of love by any means necessary is an interesting twist, even if the connection between the Sapphire and Hal remains a bit of a mystery.

The introduction of the Zamarons' Star Sapphires in this issue effectively puts a third power player on the field with the Green Lanterns and the Sinestro Corps. Three-way challenges are always more interesting, and this is a serious curve ball most readership wouldn't have seen coming. How well Johns and Gibbons are able to execute on the concept across two titles may be a question, but my guess is that many readers wills tick around to find out.

I am unclear as to why Carol requested an emerald version of her Star Sapphire costume, as well as whether or not Hal was loaning her some of the ring's power during the confrontation between Cowgirl/ Sapphire or what happened there. We'll see.

The back up feature, Tales of the Sinestro Corps: Never Alone Again, is an interesting continuation of Amon Sur's education in the sort of characters who become part of the Sinestro Corps. The story, while no longer than a few pages, manages to relate a fairly horrifying retelling of the "feral child" tales such as "The Jungle Book", creating a raw predator of a character, all while managing to retain a certain feasibility to the character.

Interesting stuff.

Daniel Acuna's art is still noteworthy, but I realized I think he draws Hal either too young, or looking a bit grungy for an Air Force pilot (he sort of sports the late-season Steve Nash hair style). But as interesting as Acuna's work, I'd mention that Hal as hipster is a fairly minor beef. Whatever techniques he's using to make the images almost glow off the page is a great choice for the GL books, and one I wouldn't mind seeing more of. Cool stuff.



SUPERMAN 662

The "Camelot Falls" storyline returns.

Superman ponders the visions bestowed upon him by Arion in the prior installments of "Camelot Falls". Meanwhile, other elements from the beginning of Busiek's storyline begin to return to the action as Subjekt 13 ponders the role of Superman amongst the species that has done little but torture him during his lifetime. Superman ponders the mystery of the "third" Kryptonian on Earth, a topic hotly questioned with the current origin of Power Girl now resolved, Krypto somewhere about, and Christopher seeming to have survived the events of Johns' and Kuberts' stalled run on Action (a series which has now officially ground to a halt if the latest DC Solicitations are any indication).

The opposite end of some of the more action-packed tales, not a lot happens in this issue, but quite a bit occurs. The weight of Superman's responsibility among humanity, whether he's resolving issues that would best be resolved themselves, and whether or not his foreknowledge of coming events can actually effect the future that is to come...? Pretty heady stuff, but as the topic is somewhat unique to the Superman character, and with Busiek's steady writing, it makes for some interesting reading. Rather than leaping into something resembling action, it's somehow refreshing to see Superman working out the variables and struggling with the possibility that his never ending fight might need to come to an end lest he destroy the world he's fought to protect.

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I've never thought about it before, but I bet if you had to use the Moon as a seat, it would feel all craggy under your bum

It's engaging to see Busiek utilizing the tropes of what might have been a complete story-arc for some writers, and instead turning the small engagement with Subject 13 into one thread of the greater picture, as well as smaller bits such as the recent issue featuring The Prankster.

One can hope Busiek is setting up shop long term on the Superman books and will bring to the character something he has not had in a few years in the way of continuing plot lines, intertwined plot-threads and a sense of a greater whole to the books that he touches.

But if i were Lois, I'd be a bit peeved that Zatanna couldn't throw on a robe when my husband came by seeking some mystical advice. Ay carumba.



TEEN TITANS 46

The "Titans East" storyline concludes after four somewhat confusing issues.

The issue is largely a lengthy continuation of wall-to-wall action that's comprised the previous issues of this storyline, and simultaneously plagued it with confusing arcs occurring during the heat of battle and "surprise" reveals that are meant o fill us in on a team of characters that, at this point, the reader may be having a hard time feeling that they know at all (and therefore, may not care).

Donna Troy (who I thought was now some kind of deity, or not), Nightwing (who is supposed to be somewhere near Batman's level of expertise), The Flash (who can move somewhere near the speed of light), and the rest of the Titans spend a tremendous number of pages fighting in smaller battles that seem like they should last far, far less time. Including Cyborg versus some guy with one arm.

As much as readers may have enjoyed Johns' writing, his tendency to go "all action, all the time" doesn't serve a team book terribly well. At this point, all character growth seems forced forward by exposition and shouted dialog in the din of battle, which is the polar opposite of the era in which Titans became a best-selling title, and Cyborg called Changeling "Salad Head" so often, it was literally, physically painful.

That said, the point of the story-arc becomes apparent in the final pages, and more or less makes up for what had become a severely disappointing, and directionless arc. The family ties of the Wilson family may always be a common thread in the Titans books, but at last one could understand why the supposed most formidable assassin on Earth was spending so much time and effort once again fighting (let's be honest) children, when a well placed rocket or two at Titans' tower should have resolved the issue, post haste.

The Geoff Johns-era on Teen Titans will no doubt be well-remembered by DC fans as the era that brought together a team of Titans that readers once again actually cared about, and who genuinely felt much more like teenagers than their Wolfman-era counterparts (who always seemed to be teenagers only in name. I mean, Donna and the bearded professor guy? Really? Some one's Daddy didn't give her enough attention.). Unfortunately, the run never really seemed to find its stride nor to produce any particularly memorable story lines, perhaps as Johns steered away from the angsty introspection of a Breakfast Club mentality and, instead, found new fights for the Titans to pick.

Looking forward to writer Adam Beechen coming on board to handle the book full-time. These characters are important to the DCU and have uncharted depths to mine. Hopefully we'll see more of that potential explored.



SHAZAM: THE MONSTER SOCIETY OF EVIL 3 (OF 4)

As a four issue, prestige format series, you're either already reading this series, planning to wait for the trade, or think Captain Marvel is already doofy and you don't need to read some silly Shazam book. Taking the last of the three stances would be an unfortunate choice as you're going to miss out on one of the freshest, msot clean-cut fun titles on the shelf.

Jeff Smith continues to infuse the book with the air of mystery, humor and eye-popping awe that one would hope to find in a book about a kid who can turn into The World's Most Powerful Mortal. The writing certainly skews towards an "all-ages" audience, but like any story about kids with surprising power (from Shazam! to Harry Potter), there's still quite a bit for the adult audience to enjoy, especially Smith's portrayal of a sleazy Dr. Sivana as a cretinous bureaucrat in the game for his own financial gain.

Whether this version of the Shazam! origin tale will continue on past this four-issue series seemed unlikely, but with the results of 52 still unknown, readers can cross their fingers that we'll see more of the Marvels in the Fawcett tradition.




I'm feeling like a bit of a punk for not commenting more upon 52, but I hope to have a column up on the topic by next week.

For some reason this week, Busiek's Superman began to really resonate with me. I'm sincerely hoping that Kurt puts down stakes and lays some claim to the Superman titles, making his name and association with the character as legendary as any in Superman's lengthy publishing history. Checkmate pulled me back in to Outsiders just as I was shutting the door on the series, and Johns made up for his lurching OYL Teen Titans efforts with a strong ending on a weak arc, but continues to make the mythology of the Green Lantern books some cool cosmic reading.



So was Johns' Titans the pinnacle of Titandom and there shall be none higher? Should McGraw toss paul Dini from his throne? What did I get right? What horrible mistakes and bad judgment calls would you like to single out?

Come on, I can take it.

Hey Ryan,

Great reviews as always. I’ve already weighed in with my comments on last week’s DC books on my blog (http://fanboywonder.blogspot.com) but your review of Green Lantern #19 got me thinking as to just how dissatisfied or at least how under-whelmed I’ve been at Geoff Johns’ performance on Green Lantern since One Year Later.

I think only part of it can be attributed to Geoff Johns overbooking himself (pun intended) as writer on too many titles.

The book’s de-facto bi-monthly status for much of last year due to the deadline challenged (DC) art team resulted in a serious loss of storytelling momentum.

At the top of our list of gripes is the practical banishment of Green Lantern John Stewart.

This is a topic for a whole separate posting but suffice to say that it’s hardly a coincidence by my reckoning that John Stewart—the most publicly recognized Green Lantern thanks to Cartoon Network’s Justice League Unlimited—disappeared “undercover” at virtually the same moment JLU left the airwaves.

But beyond the royal screwing (again) of John Stewart, Geoff Johns’ two One Year Later story arcs—Revenge of the Green Lanterns and Wanted Hal Jordan—both involved dramatic set ups rife with great potential only to be resolved hastily and/or clumsily by the writer pressing the “easy button.”

During the “Wanted” arc, Johns was one of the few writers to successfully utilize the “missing year” by having Captain Hal Jordan U.S.A.F. as a P.O.W. in Chechnya as a result of his arrogant and foolhardy flyboy habit of removing his power ring while flying on Air Force time—it bit him in the Emerald arse big time.

Furthermore, Johns spent many issues (both in GL and in early months of 52) building an interesting concept—Green Lantern 2814.1 is assigned to protect the planet Earth but many of the planet’s nation-states don’t want his help or presence within their borders.

Regardless, GL goes where he feels he must to “serve and protect” borders be damned. So the aforementioned nation-states declare him an outlaw.

This was resolved with the Golden Age GL Alan Scott and the JLA being dispatched to bring him in.

But faster than you can say easy button, Johns has Alan Scott and the JLA fall all over themselves to “help” him clear his name and drop the charges and Johns moves on to the ultra-inferior Amon Sur storyline.

Worse, a couple issues earlier during the “Revenge” story arc, Johns revealed that all of the Green Lanterns that Hal “killed” during his mind-controlled Parallax days were actually secretly alive all this time.

Thrown in a not really dead Arisia and a pre-Johns resurrected from the dead Kilowog and the end result is that Hal Jordan is let completely off the hook for his crimes committed as Parallax.

How much better of a hero and a character would Hal Jordan be if he had to live with the sins committed by his hand because his fear permitted Parallax to corrupt his spirit?

We’ll even go out on a limb to say that we liked Hal Jordan as a villain a heck of a lot better than we ever did as Green Lantern.

This is due, in no small measure, to the fact that the unfortunate consequence of the Denny O’Neill/Neil Adams “Hard Traveling Heroes” era that turned Hal Jordan into a whiny self-actualized crybaby.

GL writers since then—from Marv Wolfman to Steve Englehart to Keith Giffen and Gerard Jones—have handled Jordan as best they could—usually as a battlefield mastermind, but a peace-time screw up.

Yet Geoff Johns deserves high praise for doing the impossible by not just finding an ingenious way to bring Jordan back from the dead WITHOUT re-writing DCU history, but for reconstructing Hal Jordan’s personality.

Before Johns, some of the best Hal Jordan that had been written had come after Jordan had ‘died” in the form of flashback revisionist history. Johns portrayal of an extremely competent and confident bordering on arrogant (typical fighter jock) for me made Hal Jordan, if not likable, at least readable—until recently that is.

With the upcoming Sinestro Corps’ slow and deliberate build up, hopefully Johns will find his mojo again and start fulfilling this book’s unrealized potential (bringing back John Stewart would be a good place to start).

Thanks for listening.
FanBoyWonder

-- Posted by: FanBoyWonder at May 8, 2007 8:46 PM

I think you hit the nail on the head when you asked if Johns wasn't spread too thin with his many DC responsibilities. This book and Teen Titans have both slipped in quality in the OYL-era as Johns has been simultaneously working to put out the weekly "52". All of the post-52 interviews currently running at Newsarama.com suggest that 52 took a far greater chunk out of everyone than they ever expected. To me, it seems as if Johns may have tried to go a bit too much on autopilot in bringing some fairly good ideas to the page, and surely his knowledge of the goings on with Infinite Crisis and 52 influenced his better-than-average use of the narrative trick of OYL.

As per Hal's personality: As someone in their early 30's, my first real exposure to Hal was during the Emerald Dawn mini series and subsequent Green Lantern series which I confess I didn't follow much after the 10th issue or so. But that run included Hal as a sort of hobo, if I recall, sort of drifting around and getting in adventures.

In short, most of my perception of Hal has come from the "flashback" presentation of Hal during the post-Parallax era. Despite having picked up collections of the Dennis O'Neil GL/GA work, I feel, in many ways, that I don't really HAVE a preconception of who Hal is supposed to be.

As he's currently written, I have no problem with the portrayal of Hal. One of my favorite aspects of the current trend in the DCU to portray the major characters with distinct, adult personalities, and I think Johns has pretty well defined Hal without giving him weird character tics that just wouldn't seem natural for one of the guys on Earth most likely to overcome his own fears.

That said, I agree that the return of the "dead" Lanterns, while sort of exciting to long-time GL readers, just seemed like a fairly odd way to allow Johns to get the GL Corps back into a working order the way he likes it. While I'm aware of the identities of many of the "dead" GL's, their resurrection was unnecessary.

I think I've got a slightly different opinion of the missing John Stewart. I'd like to see him featured in GL Corps or Justice League of America (or both!). It's my understanding that "Green Lantern" is Hal's title, and other 2814 Lanterns are going to be guest stars, if they show up at all.

And, note to DC: I would buy a John Stewart GL comic before I would buy a Guy Gardner comic. Yes, I absolutely want more John Stewart in the Justice League cartoon mold.

It's my feeling that with "52" behind him, Johns will be able to devote himself more fully to the GL books. I'd keep your eye on those "dead" Lanterns to see if Johns had plans for them as Johns is able to set balls rolling in motion well in advance for pay off at a later date.

The series hasn't been particularly phenomenal of late, but it hasn't occurred to be to actually drop the series.

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