Comic Fodder

DC Comic Reviews: Week May 9, 2007 Part 2

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.


This is Part 2 of a 2-part review of last week's DC Comics. Sorry for the delay.

For Part 1, go here.

On to the pain!




MYSTERY IN SPACE 8

The final issue in the sprawling “Mystery in Space” series featuring Captain Comet and integrated back-up stories featuring The Weird.

The story comes to a literally explosive conclusion as Captain Comet faces off with the Church of Eternal Light Corporation’s Comet-clones, and then with the android army of the church/ corporation. As with any superhero comic, the triumph of the hero is a foregone conclusion, so it’s up to writer Jim Starlin to ensure that the mode in which Captain Comet and The Weird achieve their objectives is presented in a new and interesting manner.

There’s no question that the high-mortality rate of the ELC’ers is a bit unique as far as DCU heroes go, but you can’t help but admire Starlin painting a DCU hero into the “rock and a hard place” position Comet finds himself in at the conclusion of the story. But with The Weird at his back, it raises some questions as to why Comet felt the necessity to go ahead and push the plunger.

For those who haven’t read the series, the ELC had taken control of the space station which was home to millions, and, like the events of the hit Paul Verhoeven film “Total Recall”, the ELC was killing off whole sectors by turning off life-systems in order to get Comet to surrender. Unfortunately, Comet was taking advantage of the convenient new power developed in the series and had teleported to a nearby asteroid housing some sort of thermonuclear plot device. Upon his return, he planned to blow up the ELC’s sector in which he had conveniently planted bombs during a previous chapter.

There’s got to be some questions raised as to why this final chapter took a few extra months to hit the shelves, why Ron Lim beat feet after a few pages on the issue, but probably no question regarding Starlin’s opinion of the mix of religion and business. Apparently he sees it as quite a shady deal, what with the evil cloning.

The conclusion of the series wasn’t terribly satisfying as too much hinged upon plot contrivances such as all of the ELC Comet-Clone-Monks coming to take down Comet. On his asteroid with the thermonuclear plot device. And nobody noticing bombs planted all over the ELC headquarters. And nobody seemingly freaking out too badly that a religious cult had taken over the delicate space bubble in which they lived. And we never really found out how Comet’s corpse fell into the hands of the ELC, or what was up with his reincarnation.

I’m not sure that either Starlin’s writing (or his pencils in this issue) are up to current standards set for the industry. The story here was easily picked apart, and drug out over far too many issues. With a double-sized page count over 8 issues, it seems as if there should have been more story to the story, and that Starlin’s insertion of his pet-project of The Weird was done more out of personal vanity than because The Weird really added all that much to the story. Watching someone wander around for eight issues in utter confusion is more taxing than interesting, and really doesn’t do much to build the character. Moreover, the story itself was a fairly rote badguys versus goodguys action story which might have been comfortable ahead of the curve in the mid-80’s, but now seems a little more like filler than a worthy launching pad for DC’s cosmic ambitions. The character, as he appeared in Rann-Thanagar War and Infinite Crisis was a fairly interesting guy. It’s not clear that de-aging him and swapping his powers around a bit have done much to make him more accessible.

Readers should be nervous in regards to the rumored Starlin-written New Gods series which may (or may not) appear later this year. The New Gods are a property which has never really taken off, even under Kirby’s guidance. If Mystery in Space is any indication of what kind of stories readers can expect, the series may be in trouble before it begins.

Yesterday DC Comics announced a new mini-series starring the space-faring protagonists from “52” entitled “Countdown to Adventure”. While we’d rather have our adventure right up front rather than counting down for the final issue to see some adventure, it would be a shame for Comet not to make an appearance in the series.




TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED 8

The eighth issue of the series arrives and the drudgery of the new Spectre tale finally comes to an end. Anyone who couldn’t have seen how this series was going to wrap up from the first few pages either has never read a comic before or else let things like clunky foreshadowing zip right past them. This, of course, makes the series one of the most poorly named comics in recent experience.

Yes, everyone in the apartment building is somehow guilty of killing the scummy landlord. So they all pay.

Somebody out there really likes Dave Lapham, but between this series and the annoyingly pointless “City of Crime” story in Batman from a short while ago, this reader fails to see the attraction. Aside from an unblinking eye at the grim possibilities of the harm people can do to one another, there’s really no story in the eight issue Spectre series. Cris Allen doesn’t ever really seem to come to terms with the Spectre or grow as a character, and we’re repeatedly told that what he sees as The Spectre is somehow worse than what he saw as a homicide cop who stuck it out through “No Man’s Land”. Somehow I doubt it.

Hopefully DC will find something interesting to do with this character. A dull eight-issue series (which should have been four, tops) was a poor choice.

Doctor 13 back-up story

Perhaps after spending so much time pondering “52”, I’m feeling a bit defensive in regards to Waid, Rucka, Morrison, and Johns, or, as Azzarello refers to them: The Four Architects.

What had been a phenomenal tale seems to have spun out into writer Azzarello working out his personal grudge against DC’s current editorial direction. If Azzarello had anything to say about the value of the absurd and overlooked characters of the DCU, it seems to have been spent too early in the series to make way for personal complaints about not getting to play ball with DC’s “52” squad (some of whom have made vague reference to salaried positions as uber-editors within the DC infrastructure).

Readers may understand Azzarello’s wish to see even long forgotten characters like Genius Jones treated with respect, and the writer seemed well on his way to making a case for the absurd nature of the characters acting as a launching pad for post-post-modern, fourth-wall breaking tales that can compete on the shelf of the Direct market retail store. His turns at the using the Nazi Gorilla as a narrative example of how “improving a character” ultimately dilutes the character were well drawn out.

But there’s a line Azzarello crosses in his insistence that the mainstays of the DCU are “empty costumes” strangling the mystery and adventure from the true spirit of comics. Surely many readers enjoying Azzarello’s story will nod their heads in agreement, but as empty as the suits of the DC Heroes appear, so to is the argument that the characters lack substance. In a market as insulated as the direct market, odd-ball ideas do not receive the attention they might have once drawn at the spinner rack at the Piggly Wiggly. But that’s also a vague insult not just to the writers of DC’s line of books, but to the readers who are keeping guys like Azzarello in business.

Perhaps embittered by his poorly received run on Superman and forgettable run on Batman, or perhaps simply because Azzarello doesn’t like what he sees in DC’s current line-up seems like an odd reason to insist that the current architects are “killing” ideas that haven’t enjoyed popularity in, literally, decades. Especially when so many of the changes occurring under Waid, Rucka, Morrison and Johns are actively working to revive older concepts shelved in the post-COIE DCU. (And to accuse Morrison of wanting “shiny rocket packs” when his All-Star Superman is achieving a level of story telling success using nothing BUT Silver Age concepts is more than a bit absurd).

In short, I’m not going to jump on the “Bash the Salaried DC Writers” train that will inevitably follow this series. While it certainly had something to say about the universal and timeless nature of characters, as well as how those characters are executed in a story, his anger at the powers that be is debatable. Does he truly feel that the DCU needs an Anthro comic to survive, or does he merely feel that comics are more fun with characters like Anthro? or does he merely wish the comics he liked once upon a time were still in publication? That said, Azzarello got it right in that final panel in which Dr. Thirteen asks the reader not to turn the page and end the story, lest those characters we love disappear.

No doubt Azzarello is a master of the medium and understands not just the techniques of comic storytelling, but utilizes a well worn knowledge of the history of DC Comics. I’ll continue to check out his work because it is challenging to both the “establishment” and to the reader. And even when I don’t agree with his work, I’ll at least see what he has to say. And that’s an unusual draw for any writer to bring to the table.

But you also don’t see me raging against Dan Didio’s A-Squad because fifteen years ago someone canceled “The Heckler” after six issues and DC’s never found a home for the guy since. And, dammit, they should have.

If Marvel can find a home for Rocket Raccoon…




OUTSIDERS 47

You can still see pieces of Greg Rucka tucked in there as Winick’s team takes the reigns in this cross-over. But, once again, Winick’s interest in cool set-pieces supersedes his interest in the story making a damn lick of sense.

Really, Winick seems far more interested in Grace Choi’s thonged and toned ass bared to all of Checkmate HQ and creating lots of explosions than anyone acting like a @#$%ing adult. And maybe that’s the difference or the appeal/ tone of Outsiders and Checkmate.

Ten pages of the filler sequence featuring Grace and Nightwing tearing up the Checkmate HQ can only be reconciled with Sasha Bordeaux’s one line that basically allows Choi and Nightwing to run wild and test the internal security of the Castle. Why on earth else would that be allowed in a building full of well armed folks? Otherwise, it would have made all the sense in the world for Nightwing (an ostensibly sensible guy) to talk things out with Sasha, a proven and cool headed sort of Black Queen. And shouldn’t Nightwing already know about Sasha’s prior relationship with Batman?

Winick finally gets down to brass tacks with the Outsiders team already waiting it out in a conference room (again, Sasha didn’t mention this why? And why was Grace not included when she’s clearly okay?). Oolong Island comes back into play as a still-active base of operations for some mad scientists. Checkmate is interested in utilizing The Outsiders as a sort of journeyman strike team and try to assist them in not making any more mistakes like irradiating the Russian country-side. Agreed, the two teams head out for Oolong Island, only to be intercepted by a green Kirby monster.

Scene.

Either Winick’s writing has become increasingly sloppy across the books he’s handling or my patience with his writing style is beginning to wear thin. His characters don’t necessarily lack in motivation, but in achieving their goals both long-term and short-term, the characters act more like a blunt instrument than a nuanced character worthy of reader interest.

In short, when confronted with a challenge, the modus operandi of his characters is to begin shooting and smashing. And this may sound antithetical to the enjoyment of superhero comics, but all that smashing really isn’t that exciting. Placing Winick’s style up against Rucka’s might look good on paper, but given the handling of the Outsider over the past few years versus the portrayal of Checkmate, is it really hard to imagine Checkmate coming out on top every time merely because Rucka’s team is based in planning and pre-planning by seemingly intelligent characters. It’s a bit depressing that this sort of cross-over is required to bring fans of the Outsiders over to give Checkmate a chance when Checkmate is the book fans of espionage and covert operations could be reading.

This reader will continue with Checkmate through the remainder of this cross-over and then, most likely, bid the title a quick farewell.




So that's it for this week. Hope you spent your money wisely.

There's a bit of something going on at DC as the OYL/ Brave New World ideas seem to have exploded on impact (in a bad way) rather than come in for a safe landing, only to fly off another day. With "Mystery in Space" and "Tales of the Unexpected" wrapped up, most of the 8-issue mini series came and went, disappearing into oblivion. Whether DC has plans for these concepts or not, only time will tell. Sooner or later one of Didio's B-Listers always seems to have ideas for these kinds of things.

So what did you like? Are you going to go to the mat and prove me wrong on "Tales of the Unexpected"? Did yuou finally read the Spectre story you'd always dreamt of? Has Azzarello convinced you to swear off superheroes forever and instead seek out comics about French cavemen? Did I get it all horribly wrong?

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

Hey Ryan,

Hate to say “told you so” regarding the Outsiders but it’s NOT going to get any better and as you are discovering Judd Winick as a writer is pretty much a one-trick pony.

As you know I dropped Outsiders some time ago and I’ve been boycotting the Outsiders portion of the Checkmate/Outsiders cross over as since I have publicly called for the cancellation of Outsiders.

From a business point of view, I can see where the two struggling books would want to cross over in an effort to gain new potential readers but from the Checkmate parts of the story that I’ve read, this crossover can only help Outsiders and while diminishing Checkmate by association.

Unfortunately, Checkmate’s diminished luster from its Outsiders crossover is a hit the book can’t afford to take. I like the book personally and I see what writer Greg Rucka is trying to do in crafting a story of the gray world of intelligence within the black and white, good and evil comic book world, but as I’ve often described Checkmate in my own blog (http://fanboywonder.blogspot.com), Rucka is sometimes just too darn smart for his own good.

Rucka’s Checkmate is the perfect example of what you noted in Part 1 in your comments about Countdown and DC’s general trend of late of omitting or failing to clue the reader into the relevant back-story or even a simple recap within the story itself.

Example: Unless you happen to have read Rucka’s run on Detective Comics during the Bruce Wayne Murderer storyline a few years back, Checkmate readers would have no earthly idea who Sasha Bordeaux is or what her connection to Batman or how she came to join Checkmate.

Dan Dido in a recent interview called this type recapping “lazy storytelling” but if DC doesn’t throw readers a bone with some sort of background info or recap—especially if their books are going continue to be Deadline Challenged—good luck at retaining existing readers to say nothing of bringing new paying customers into the fold.

By contrast, The Amazing Spider Girl over at Marvel has a recap page up front every issue, allowing readers to get instantly caught up on story, not unlike a television show—“previously in Spider-Girl.”

Hopelessly Old School you say? Perhaps, but there’s a reason why that book can’t die, why it’s at 100 plus issues and going strong and why it’s the only Marvel Comic on my pull list.

But like the man said—that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

Thanks for listening.
FanBoyWonder

-- Posted by: FanBoyWonder at May 16, 2007 11:46 PM

As you know, all of this "insider's club" mentality in DC's writing is kind of driving me nuts. In the end, it's just not sustainable, and those Marvel "in the previous issue" pages are a godsend for guys like me who only pop in and out of many of the Marvel comics I pick up.

I don't know if just by touching Outsiders that Rucka's Checkmate is somehow tainted. It just means I'm enjoying this run more in the Checkmate issues than the Outsiders issues. And this week's issue actually does touch on the Sasha/Nightwing connection. Whether it makes sense to anyone who wasn't reading Batman comics at the time, I have no idea. I'll be covering that in this week's review.

If anything is going to convince DC they need to add those captions, it's going to be fan confusion on the boards with Countdown. We can hope.

-- Posted by: ryan at May 17, 2007 1:13 AM