Comic Fodder

DC Comic Reviews: Week July 5, 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.



ACTION COMICS 851
Written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner; Art and Cover by Adam Kubert

Hopefully DC Comics has learned that scheduling mistakes affect the readership.

For readers playing along at home, this is the fourth issue of the Geoff Johns/ Richard Donner penned Superman series which was announced well over a year ago and began its run in, I believe, October. It seems that production problems (translation: rumors abound that artist Adam Kubert can't seem to get his work done) have plagued the story arc. While DC has tried to make good on the promise of Action Comics reaching shelves on a monthly basis by inserting storylines and one-shots in the midst of the Johns/Donner "Last Son" arc, there can be no doubt that readership has most likely suffered, and that readers keeping up may have lost a sense of momentum with several months between issues.

That said, this issue manages to keep readers engaged, modernizes old concepts, and skillfully advances the story as the epic tale of the return/ first appearance of Zod as movie-goers might know him makes an entrance into the world of modern Superman comics. It's unfortunate that the issues are going out so far apart, as the build in teh story does manage a cinematic flair, beginning with Super-domesticity, and in this chapter seeing our hero rising up from seeming defeat, even as his comrades are falling to the threat.

The final scenes of the comic promise a dramatic conclusion to the storyline, and as this review shall remain spoiler-free, we invite readers to pick up this issue.

It's worth noting that, since Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC has attempted to find ways to bring Zod back to the Superman mythos, all while attempting to maintain the rule that Superman is "The Last Son". It seems a requirement that Zod be a former foe of Jor-El, or at least a true Kryptonian criminal in order for the concept to work. Attempts to explain his existence in a "pocket dimension", as a transmorgified alien (See "Return to Krypton"), as some sort of cosmic spectre inhabiting Soviet astronauts (see 'Red Harvest", or whatever the story was supposed to be in Azzarello's "For Tomorrow", it seems the Zod made famous in movies and who once sported a distinctly militaristic outfit in the 1980's may be the template with the most resonance.

Zod, like Supergirl, has been a character representative of DC's tendency to endlessly monkey with an idea, attempting to replace the original idea due to some DC-internal rule system rather than merely writing a character to fit the classic model which readers seem to prefer. It's not enough to merely name a character Zod if the character is clearly not recognizable as the character with whom audiences are acquainted.

Let us hope that DC uses Zod sparingly as we move forward.

Johns and Donner have established a well paced, exciting story. A seemingly unbeatable threat, friends in danger, a kid in the mix... Had production problems not plagued the series, it would have been fascinating to see how well Action Comics might have sold through. More baffling is that the art, while interesting, does not seem as if it should have taken this long to assemble. Quite simply, while Kubert's work is interesting, is it really that much better than any other work? Months of delays after a lengthy lead-time better? One wonders if the special 3D version didn't play a part in this issue's long delay (I was unable to obtain a copy of the 3D issue as of this writing). However, with the conclusion of the storyline to be delivered at some later date as an Annual, it seems the 3D is just a minor bump in the road.



ALL STAR SUPERMAN 8
Written by Grant Morrison; Art by Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant ; Cover by Quitely

The Bizarro story continues across this second issue as Superman is stranded on the Bizarro World as the sqaure planet is pulled back into the Underverse (if you have to ask, I can't help you). For all of the wild ideas, the real focus is upon the need for both Superman and non-Bizarro-Bizarro "Zibarro" to escape from the madness before either Superman is literally crushed beneath the gravity of the Underverse or Zibarro's spirit breaks from living surrounded by madness.

As with each issue of this series, there's a wash of melancholy which pervades the proceedings. In this case, Superman's stoic optimism in the face of impending doom and Zibarro's polite desperation don't compete for attention but play as parallel needs for escape. Zibarro's escape within his writing plays tragically as his only means of escape, but meaningless if nobody can ever read his words. The words of encouragement from Superman may be enough to bolster him and allow him to carry on. Surely a sentiment with which any writer could identify.

Some readers are going to be disappointed in this issue, especially readers who don't enjoy translating Bizarro-speak or who are looking for a few fights and a chase sequence. It could be mentioned here that Morrison's take on Superman extends beyond the trappings of the Silver Age and an understanding of the Clark/ Superman persona's which work better within this series than any since the sixties. He also understands that Superman doesn't require cover-to-cover violence in order to tell a story about a super-hero overcoming impossible odds. It's a refreshing thing to read in the world of capes and tights where almost any challenge what-so-ever is usually met with a kick to the bread basket, and a topic which doesn't receive much mention in these reviews. However, once Superman's abilities were raised to a certain level, the need to face off against a challenge without resorting to fisticuffs and to resolve a situation by actually sitting down and thinking it through became the hallmarks of the Superman magazines (and television program) even as the CCA was in development.

Quitely's art continues to be among the most unique and oddly resonant among comic artists. While each panel may not be consistent on model, the tone, pacing and framing of each sequence against the deathly red skies of BizarroWorld create a fantastic other-worldly vibe. His work in capturing nuance of expression and posture should be checked by almost every comic artist, whether working in superhero comics or not.

The series continues to surprise and leaves the reader eager for more.



THE ALL-NEW ATOM 13
Written by Gail Simone; Art by Mike Norton and Dan Green; Cover by Ladrönn

For the first time in a long time, it's relevant once again in the pages of The Atom that our hero can shrink. Kind of.

If not for a few comics I picked up years ago at a convention in a grab bag, I'm not sure I would have been able to figure out what was going on with this comic, or, more specifically, why I was reading this story. It is true that DC comics once published a short-lived series called "Sword of the Atom" which, for reasons that remain mysterious, took Ray Palmer, dumped him in a jungle, teamed him up with a tribe of tiny yellow aliens, hooked him up with the prettiest of said aliens, and had him ride around on frogs. And Ray had a sword. Even in sixth grade with no other context, I knew something had gone off the rails with The Atom while reading this story.

So it's an odd thing that with issue 13 Simone decides to revisit the Sword of the Atom scenario and, essentially, not much happens. The first several pages of the issue dwell upon Chronos and his flying pocketwatch craft, there's a brief reference to Underworld Unleashed, and then Chronos (for either vague or no reason at all) kicks Ryan Choi from the vehicle and lets him plunge into the jungle, abruptly ending the set-up established with the last issue.

In some ways, readers may suspect Gail Simone has had the storyline of The All-New Atom commandeered in order to serve the mega-narrative of the Countdown storyline. Or else Gail decided not to think too much about how to bridge the gap between getting Choi down to South America and tell her story about how the aliens are doing now (I believe we were supposed to believe they'd all died in a fire at the conclusion of Sword of the Atom, which would explain why many of the aliens appeared to have scarring).

The plot is fairly well-worn stuff as Choi, as an outsider, is a bit revered and feared by the primitives after winning a fight in their gladiatorial arena (a feat never before accomplished!). His victory wins him a bit of freedom, but he realizes the primitives are all backwards, and solves their problems in a few easy steps, and maybe learns something about himself (or Ray Palmer) along the way. It's nothing much we haven't seen before, and so the story mostly relies on Simone's light touch to carry it through. Unfortunately, there isn't much here that's laugh out loud funny, and the plot feels as familiar as "our hero gets amnesia", which leaves readers without much to grasp on to.

Incidentally, Choi's ability to shrink and control his mass is once again put on the back burner as all of the yellow aliens are conveniently to scale with the height at which he ends up when radiation interferes with his use of the belt. Which renders the powers, once again, sort of moot.

The issue wraps up with Choi literally stumbling upon Donna Troy, Jason Todd and the Monitor as he leaves the village and they seek out Ray Palmer thanks to events in Countdown.

It seems as if Simone may have had some early ideas about how she wanted to manage this series, but Choi has become a bit of a cypher in his own title, bouncing from one incident to the next. The focus has become upon Choi's still burning man-crush on Ray Palmer, some poorly explained gymnastics stunts and even more poorly explained martial arts skills. Throw in the lack of any intellect or use of the shrinking powers, and there's not much left to make Choi a worthy successor to the mantle of Ray Palmer. Should he be found, is it possible DC was looking to pull the same stunt with Choi for which they set up Bart Allen?

The lack of focus in this title indicates a lack of interest in Simone's part, or that of DC itself. It's a shame as the series seemed to have potential, but seems to have boiled down to half-baked jokes and Simone's opportunity to write to her goofier side. Unfortunately, it just doesn't feel as if Simone has invested much in the character or the title, and that readers should have gotten more from the book after 13 issues.



BLACK CANARY 1 (of 4)
Written by Tony Bedard; Art and Cover by Paulo Sequeira and Amilton Santos

It seems Black Canary didn't throw Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen a big "yes" when he popped the question at the conclusion of the most recent Green Arrow series.

Mostly this series seems like a bit of filler to sell some comics as Green Arrow and Black Canary enjoy some star status in the DCU thanks to the wedding in question. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but... Back in the 80's and 90's, both DC and Marvel would put mini-series on the shelf featuring characters who were popular in a team book and enjoying popularity within a title, but who hadn't really hada chance to shine outside of a team environment. Often the stories seemed a bit ham-handed and followed a model of: Hero is off on their own for some reason, hero gets into trouble and uncovers plot, but doesn't call in reinforcements for reasons which remain mysterious. Hero tries to fight villain, gets beta up. Hero tries again and wins. Mini-series not ever really mentioned ever again.

Black Canary has spent time as Green Arrow's often more-capable partner, led the JLA and co-led the Birds of Prey team. One would assume a person who battles Despero on a regular basis would be able to handle herself, and, if she couldn't, would think to call in one of her pals to mop up. It's true that Dinah probably needs an opportunity to shine in her own title, but somehow this first issue of the series seems a bit rote, including the reveal of the puppet-master villain in the last pages (and not exactly a blockbuster villain at that...).

Bedard seems to handle the personal bits in between the actual story just fine, but the story here feels a bit as if it came from an 80's plot random generator. Aside from some adorable scenes with Black Canary's charge, Sin, which border on twee (oh hell... the pages jump headfirst into a big bowl of Sweet'N'Low and swim around like Scrooge McDuck in his money bin), the set-up of the next few issues just doesn't seem all that engaging. I'm unfamiliar with whether Black Canary has previously been established as having a first husband. It's possible she did, but I missed that story arc. Nonetheless, it's a bit disappointing to see the Chair of the JLA fail to recognize a guy she was once married to as she jumps out of the shadows and kicks him in the breadbasket. In heels. It's the "punch first" mentality that manages to keep super-hero comics so often on this side of dumb.

Artist Paulo Sequiera seems delighted to draw Dinah as a fairly generic blonde bombshell in impractical outfits, and while the art is competent, it's fairly standard comic work.

Whether this series is important or not remains to be seen. Most likely your mileage will vary depending upon how invested readers are in the characters already versus how much the series will affect the DCU (probably not at all).



COUNTDOWN 43
Story by Paul Dini; Script by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray; Art by David Lopez; Breakdowns by Keith Giffen; Covers by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson

Bart Allen's death gives the DCU a moment of pause as Central City provides a wake in honor of the Scarlet Speedster with Titans and Jay Garrick eulogizing the Flash.

Palmiotti and Gray script from a story by Paul Dini, and once again prove there isn't a moment they can't gum up with cliche and a choke hold on subtlety. Clearly favorites of someone at DC, Palmiotti and Gray write to the obvious at every available opportunity, from hand-wringing villains to super-heroes who constantly punch first and ask questions later. Apply said logic to a funeral attended by anguished Titans and foes of the Flash who are blamed for the death of Bart Allen, and what should have been a bit of melancholy becomes a gnashing of teeth and public displays of poor decision making.

The breakdown of Wonder Girl leading to a promise for blood while at the pulpit might serve a plot, but in the face of cameras and thousands of spectators, was more melodrama than drama, and seemed mostly to serve the plot point of the Trickster and Pied Piper's sudden need for escape from the stadium (way to play it cool, guys) than it actually worked. And, surely, in light of Wonder Woman's recent troubles with Maxwell Lord, someone would want to play interference with Wonder Girl, for no other reason than to keep the public from getting nervous.

Wonder Girl is, apparently, on a character arc this year which is putting her through the ringer with the loss of Superboy, the death of Bart and the imprisonment of her mother (which also begs the question of how this fits in with her attacking Air Force One in Amazons Attack and, presumably, Teen Titans, but we'll leave that for another day). Unfortunately, neither Johns nor Peter David in Young Justice ever did much to develop Wonder Girl as a character, which makes the recent tragedy befalling her character feel more like plot points than a storyline for which readers can feel sympathy. Add in a lot of accusations and non-stop anger in Supergirl, Teen Titans and anywhere else she appears, and there' not much to reccomend the character at the moment. (Obstacle + overcoming obstacle = story. Obstacle + more than a year of pity party = not much).

Palmiotti and Gray clumsily handle the Villains escape from the stadium (they run right past Jay Garrick? Really?), and the shoving match between the Monitor and Jason Todd leaves the reader scratching their head.

Jimmy Olsen's story is somewhat progressed as he considers taking on a role as a superhero and using his newfound abilities for good, Holly Robinson takes a bath and meets a relaxed Harley Quinn (out of costume) and Mary Marvel is MIA.

That said, the idea of centering an issue almost entirely within the framework of the funeral does, mostly work. The event is large enough to house multiple storylines, and can contribute to the advancement of the mega-narrative. Whatever occurred between Dini submitting his storyline to DC and Palmiotti and Gray banging out their pages seems to be what muddled the events of the issue. They may wish to consider that barely contained seething anger for every character doesn't make them more interesting. Instantly going for rage and slapping a Monitor doesn't lend much in the way of depth to your characters, nor does it lend much sympathy to your characters (whether Jason Todd is a loose cannon or not).

Where "52" succeeded where Countdown is not working is that the writers involved were all DC's A-List, and somehow managed to maintain characterization while avoiding going to the well of super-hero cliches or hokey dialog as they spun their story. It will be unfortunate if the legacy of this weekly series is to demonstrate how assigning B-List writers to an A-List storyline can muddle the overall product. As we like to say here in your DC reviews, there are no bad ideas, only poor execution of good ideas. Countdown is showing that the weak link in the scripting process may be the most crucial link in the chain.



DETECTIVE COMICS 834
Written by Paul Dini; Art by Don Kramer and Wayne Faucher; Cover by Simone Bianchi

The two-part Zatanna story concludes.

This issue, while still a strong, cohesive narrative, somehow didn't dazzle. Perhaps the combination of Zatanna and Batman isn't as compelling as Dini is prone to believe, or that magic in Gotham gives too many easy solutions to what may be dramatic but (for lack of a better word) mundane situations.

At the end of the day, the Joker is a fascinating character, but when magic is applied, and the definition of magic is whatever Zatanna dreams up and can say backwards, one is left wondering why she doesn't merely say "Delaeh si dnim ruoy, Rekoj" and save Batman a lot of trouble.

Because DC has too much riding on the Joker continuing as a character, we'll let that slide. What plagues the issue more is the foregone conclusion of Batman and Zatanna stopping the Joker (with a requisite number of bodies being piled up before they can save the day). Sure, Zatanna provides a neat magical trick, but it's a bit... gross. After all, she's magically just insisted that a bunch of people possibly pick up a nasty infection.

Dini's run is still an enjoyable read. The stories are still a far cry more enjoyable than the dismal plotting of the pre-Infinite Crisis Batman-is-a-loner stories. While the stories are mostly stand-alone, there is a shared history between issues, and that's helping to create a better line of Batbooks on teh streets of Gotham as Morrison spins his more worldly Batman stories. Overall, Dini is still delivering, and stating that this is not his strongest effort still places the comic among the best of DC's output in any given month.



SUPERGIRL 19
Written by Joe Kelly; Art by Alé Garze and Marlo Alquiza; Cover by Garza and Richard Friend

Ho-boy.

Well, the first thing you should know is that the cover has nothing to do with the interior pages (and I await some fairly off-color comments regarding what the cover may or may not be portraying). This also means that Supergirl simply doesn't follow up on any of the prophesies, mad visions, etc... of the past 18 issues. Instead, writer Joe Kelly abandons all of that to give us a warm 'n fuzzy send off and give Supergirl a chance to make amends with a few folks she's embarassed or cheesed off during the run of this series. There's a feeling that this is, in many ways, a final issue of the book and that we'll see someone different in Supergirl's skin when issue 20 hits the stands.

Unlike the past few issues, which seemed to be punishing/ mocking the readership for trying to uncover the classic version of Kara Zor-El, this issue tries to be a bit more subversive about the whole thing. It's probably still questionable whether Kelly and artist Garza meant the headband as a loving nod to the original Kara Zor-El, or whether they were just taking jabs though the dialog of supporting characters.

In the tradition of the series thus far, a multitude of characters ponder Supergirl as sexual object, from Captain Boomerang Jr (who were told was always safe as he prefers the older ladies. Funny how they only mention his now, and then immediately place Kara atop him). Grace of the Outsiders seems utterly unfazed by a Boomer-mounted Supergirl and encourages our hero to engage in some foreplay with Boomer. Beast Boy ponders the nubile hotness of the Maid of Might, while Kid Devil imagines lipstick lesbian action. A few pages later, the idea is reinforced when Supergirl visits the no-longer-traumatized (and now cute) girl-with-a-weight-problem from around issue 12 of the series. Don't worry gentle readers, she's landed a boy friend/ self-confidence. Curiously, she claims, her boyfriend won't go to second base with her (que?) and she believes she needs the promise of a three-way or girl-on-girl action in order to get him interested. Luckily, our Supergirl is there to lend a helping, photogenic hand. Girl power! (Honey... if you need props to get a 17-year old boy to go to go second base, we may want to consider what team he's playing for...)

Overall, its more of the same for Supergirl as sexual object, quickly commented upon as she makes her rounds/ amends. One almost expects Lois to comment upon Supergirl's Hawtness, even as she berates her in the final pages of the issue.

In the final pages we learn there's been a year since Supergirl has stopped by to see Clark. This bit threw me off as a reader. This means all of this took place during 52... which... doesn't really matter. But does muddle the scenes in Up, Up and Away.

In most ways that matter, Action Comics 850 handled Supergirl's issues with Clark much, much better than anything which occurs here. And one suspects Clark would forgive her for just about anything, right up through killing him if she felt as if she had to do it.

At least Power Girl got in a fair bit of righteous fury (reflecting reader confusion regarding the "Candor" storyline).

I confess I've been reading the series for the past few issues out of little more than morbid curiosity. As much of a mess of the character as Berganza, Kelly and (sadly) even Loeb had made, it's unclear if the direction of the title will genuinely be an improvement. Currently DC is handling its two resident blonde super-strength sporting teen leads as riding a line between villainy and incompetence. If the cover of the next issue, of Supergirl fleeing a burnt out Air Force One (see Amazons Attack!), is any indication, we're in for a bit more of the same.



Some very good this week. Other items which need a bit more introspection on the part of DC editorial.

While I can certainly understand DC's trend toward launching self-contained mini-series rather than new titles (was anyone clamoring for a Black Canary solo book?) it's disappointing when the series is a cookie-cutter throw-away, the likes of which haven't been seen in years.

Whatever the weekly process is for outputting Countdown, a bit more care has to be made. Is this before or after Amazons Attack? Surely that would reflect a bit of what's going on with Wonder Girl. How does this fit in with events of other titles?

Not every book is going to be All Star Superman, but that doesn't excuse DC's seeming insistence that as long as you meet a minimum level of quality, a book should hit the shelf simply because it works as part of Didio's master plan for the DCU and throws a bone to one of Didio's pet writers. Countdown and All new Atom both suggest that writers grappling with the ideas of other writers (very specific ideas at that) may not be an effective method for moving forward for DC Comics.

DC may need to begin figuring ways of drawing in new talent and new ideas which can keep up with their A-List writers, and editors who can intelligently respond to reader demands. As endless events may not work as a sustainable model for long term growth for DC, DC's utility players may be Yes Men, but they're also keeping DC from forward movement as they trot out paint-by-numbers stories. Morrison is proving on a routine basis that old ideas can be reutilized to tell new stories, while Johns tweaks and alters existing concepts to pave a pathway toward DC's future.



So was it a good week for DC? Did you thoroughly enjoy the Black Canary first issue? Was Morrison's All Star Superman bereft of fun and ideas? Did you think Supergirl went out on a high note?

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