Comic Fodder

DC Comic Reviews: Week August 8, 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.

Trying to get a jump on reviews this week so the same fate which befell me the past few weeks doesn't occur once more. This week was a bit light with Superman. Thus, as Comic Fodder's resident Superman nut, I may have been a little bit let down.

On the positive side, DC seems to be recalling that they had some talented folks who once worked for them. This week saw the re-appearance of one of DC's groundbreaking writers and a penciller I'd believed lost to the sands of time. There's a pointless rewriting of a classic Batman tale. Add in characters lost to Crisis on Infinite Earths, newly restored for your viewing pleasure, and this week at DC, everything old is new again.


BATMAN 667
Written by Grant Morrison; Art and Cover by J.H. Williams III

Leave it to Grant Morrison to once again take a familiar concept such as the closed room murder mystery and make it something new and suspenseful.

Most readers will not be comic scholars enough to recall much more than the fact that a pre-Crisis Batman had a sort of network of like-minded crusaders. Featured in comics as far back as Detective #215, the Batmen of All Nations were a very real invention of the comics. Morrison's use of the characters suggests a far different, possibly more bizarre past for Batman and Robin than the straightforward telling of the post COIE Batman suggests.

As involving as the mystery of the murder and entrapment on the island fortress is, it seems to be a backdrop for an exploration of the fates and intervening years for the club of sleuths, most of which were unable to maintain their edge in the same manner as Batman or The Knight (formerly The Squire). Morrison had used The Knight as far back as the late 90's in his run on JLA, and The Squire was featured in the first issues of JLA: Classified, and seems to have been proof of concept that the old ideas can be re-purposed just as easily as the mainstays of the DCU can be maintained.

Those familiar with art by JH Williams won't be surprised by the mixed and varying uses of rendering and media in the issue. While the term "stylized" comes to mind, its great to see elegant, non-standard work in the pages of such a high-profile title. As with his work on Promethea, there's a method to Williams' madness, and seldom is it fair to criticize him for going over the top when each decision seems to serve the overall story. The art is a consideration, not merely a foregone, concrete conclusion.

This is just the first issue of the story, but the set-up and cliff-hanger ending promise good things. Morrison's run on Batman continues to exceed expectations. If you're not reading Morrison's Batman, you're missing a heck of a good title. Highly recommended.



BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL 8
Written by Michael Green; Art and Cover by Denys Cowan and John Floyd

Like Wolverine, it seems that the enigma of the Joker may be best served by never actually solving the mystery of the character's origin. Perhaps due to the upcoming Batman film which is to feature The Joker, the powers that be at DC decided now may be the time to revisit the history of the Clown Prince of Crime.

Unfortunately, for readers such as myself, who came of age when the up-til-now canon one-shot "The Killing Joke" came into being, this storyline not only doesn't jive, it falls far short. Had "The Killing Joke" not created such an impact, this version of the Joker's origin might have played well. However, too much of the Killing Joke has found its way into the rest of the DCU as Batman mythos and otherwise.

Was the Joker never the failed comedian? Was he really never one of us? Why, then, has Jason Todd taken on the mantle of the Red Hood? Are the stories surrounding Jason Todd from pre-Crisis no longer in continuity? Should Barbara Gordon be up and walking?

This isn't continuity porn. This is the problem DC was facing in the years leading up to Infinite Crisis as every new writer decided to refine and redefine the workings of the DCU with no regard to the greater whole. In many ways, it's lazy storytelling and poor editorial oversight.

That said, Green's story is compelling and makes as much sense as anything else when it comes to how the Joker could come to be. Unfortunately, the Joker is presented as largely no longer human by the time the reader catches up with him in this story. He's killed so much and so well for so long that the challenge he may have once felt has gone out of the game.

There are several issues left in this storyline, and it seems inlikely that Green will leave no opening for the version of events which occured in The Killing Joke. Unfortunately, all that will really do is detract from the simple version of events put forth in The Killing Joke.

Also: Alfred Pennyworth, computer genius?

DC's former policy of "We don't care! Pick whatever origin you like!" is shortsighted and does nothing to serve the overall value of the DCU's meganarrative. There's no real reason to erase The Killing Joke from canon, other than that DC can sell more comics by offering yet another interpretation of the Joker's mysterious past.

Reading the last issue I checked the credits part-way through the issue to see who was doing this jaggy, interesting pencil work and was surprised to find it was an old favorite of mine, Denys Cowan, who handled chores on the DC Question series in the 80's. Cowan's style may have changed somewhat, but his renderings have not any power, even if they've lost some touch to phot realism. For reasons of convenience, I've often lumped in Cowan with Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz as some of the most dynamic pencillers from my formative comic reading years, and its great to see him back.

One can only hope that DC has a very good reason for mucking about with the Joker's origin. Otherwise, handing over such a weighty topic to an unknown and unproven writer is a hugely baffling choice.



BLACK ADAM: THE DARK AGE 1 (OF 8)
Written by Peter J. Tomasi; Art by Doug Mahnke, Norm Rapmund and Christian Alamy; Cover by Mahnke; Variant cover by Alex Ross

For readers who mght have thought the image of a long-time mainstay of kid-friendly comics embracing the decomposed remains of his wife might be a bit much, they may wish to take a pass before reading the actual contents of the comic.

This issue is the sort of reason DC Comics may eventually wish to implement a rating system of some sort. From the garroting to the cannibalism, its not exactly Teen Titans Go! in the pages of Black Adam. That said, this reader is an adult, and once adjusted to the tone of the story, had no real problem getting onboard with the proceedings.

Taking place squarely within the confines of the DCU, this title follows the events which befell Black Adam between the final pages of 52 and the first few issues of DC's Countdown. There should be no mistaking this for an Elseworld's tale merely due to the graphic nature of some of the content.

Clearly the events of 52 and World War III have planted Black Adam back in the "villain" camp. However, the question which remains is how much of the behavior we see in the title can we assume was Black Adam's original nature, and how much was carved out of him due to the events of 52? While Adam was frequently portrayed as a harsh despot and would-be despot, there was little indication that he was practiced in the more desperate turns taken in this issue.

While the protagonist of the series, Teth-Adam is not hero in the sense attributed to the cape and tights set. The story revolves less around his desire to become Black Adam once again (his magic word changed at the conclusion of 52, and thus lost to Teth-Adam), and more upon his desire to revive his lost love. However, Teth-Adam is given a monologue in the issue as he re-enters Khandaq which suggests his true feeling upon both the power of Black Adam as a force within the life of Teth-Adam and the players within the field which Black Adam operates. Teth-Adam may be more at war with Black Adam than the mere ruse which the speech is intended to be.

This reader appreciates the notion that the story is still firmly rooted in the DCU, with some favorite JSA'ers trying to catch up to Teth-Adam. However, the inclusion of plot devices from other titles and lines beyond either JSA or the Shazam! lines seems like a bit of a cheat. While certainly its plausible that Teth-Adam might know of the Lazarus Pits, and even the location of a pit, the comic relies too much on the reader's knowledge of the device within the Batman books, and asks the reader to ignore the notion that Batman sealed the pits prior to Infinite Crisis.

Doug Mahnke is excellent on art chores, as he has been on books as diverse as Superman: Man of Steel and JLA: Elite. His work here is more ground level and harsher to match the feel of the series.

If the easy use of a device is ignored, the series has a lot of promise. Readers missing 52 or the inclusion of Black Adam in the previous volume of JSA will want to check out this title.



COUNTDOWN 38
Story by Paul Dini; Script by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray; Breakdowns by Keith Giffen; Art by Jesus Saiz; Covers by Shane Davis and Matt Banning

If I may remove my critic's hat for a moment and just talk... I'm beginning to dread each issue of this series, particularly those handled by scripters Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.

As with many of the Palmiotti and Gray comics, characters seem to work from no internal logic, spitting dialog and simply going through the motions put before them. Add in dopey lines for Mary Marvel as she cracks wise and drops insults like calling out the New God Slig with "Hey, Slimy!", and readers cannot help but wonder exactly how much Palmiotti and Gray are phoning this one in.

What's tragic is that there seems to be a story going on here. New Gods are being killed. Mary Marvel is corrupted. Jean Loring/ Eclipso takes a notice of the events aboard the cruise ship. Meanwhile Jimmy Olsen is trying to join the Teen Titans (how old is Jimmy, anyway?) without a firm grasp of his new abilities, and the new Question and Batwoman have jumped into action in Gotham (but don't see fit to hand in two known fugitives?).

And, apparently inspired by the Dan Jurgens era or Superman titles, every scene cuts to the next scene with a bit of shared dialog. Perhaps this is a nod to the 90's era Superman titles under the now-defunct shield system. Back then, Superman titles were released weekly in a title-defying chronological order, but the shared dialog didn't work then, and it's not working now.

If it were not clear that Countdown is important to the rest of the DCU's future for the next few years, this reader would have dropped the title. Each issue a lot happens, but it seems we're several weeks in and, yet, nothing has occured within the Coutndown title itself. No murder mystery, no missing time, no cosmic return home... Instead we get a very tiny Donna Troy and Jason Todd traversing a very tiny spot somewhere off the back of Ryan Choi's dog's ass (no, really). The pacing is glacial and each plotline seems more disjointed and pointless than the one preceeding it. Plus, the Holly Robinson storyline disappeared this week and I've realized that in no way did I miss it. Especially in light of the failure of Amazons Attack!

$3.00 a week is making this title a raw deal. This series is going nowhere fast. And with the knowledge that DC expects me to pay for a bunch of spin-offs and one-shots to keep up, now they're just insulting the reader.



GREEN ARROW: YEAR ONE 3 (of 6)
Written by Andy Diggle; Art and Cover by Jock

There's something about the pacing in this series that feels oddly lackadaisical for a comic about a guy in a life and death struggle against odds stacked immensely against his favor. The book feels oddly light and breezy, and some of that may be attributed to the post-Bendis sparsity of action or dialog on any single page. Add in a convenient island captive (who Diggle might as well have labeled Deadmeat given how much we've seen of her in any books taking place after this series) as well as a villain rooted squarely in late 80's/early 90's over-the-top cop action movies, and it seemed as if, once again, this was just another issue priming the reader until something finally happened.

Of course something does happen, something utterly predictable (unpredictable only in that it seems like it should have happened in the final issue of the title if I know my 90's action movies).

Again, this reader is feeling a bit ripped off in regards to seeing the actual evolution of Oliver Queen as jungle survivor rather than this immediate jump from qualified archer to action hero because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It seems so much potential was lost as the journey from rich layabout to hero was by-passed so that Diggle could move immediately to saving the girl from the evil drug dealers.

Without Jock's work, and with a lesser artist at pencils, one wonders if this series would have worked at all.



GREEN LANTERN 22
Written by Geoff Johns; Art and Cover by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert

The issues of Green Lantern leading up to Sinestro Corps War often seemed to be little but extended fight sequences with little in the way of point or plot. Too often characters fought cover to cover, hurling exposition at one another as the battle waged. Still, the stories were intriguing enough to keep this reader engaged and wondering what would happen next.

All of that was obviously Johns' warm-up to the big, big plans he had which are now coming to light in the pages of Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps. In many ways, DC is looking back to move forward with many of their core titles. Story-arcs are no longer defined by the desire to publish stand-alone trades with 6 issues worth of story, but rather allow single writers to work in details, drop hints and build to a point with a title unqiuely in their possession, all while working in the greater forces of the DC Universe.

Green Lantern 22 plants the reader at some early stage of the Green Lantern/ Sinestro Corps Wars, and with recent issues featuring Zamarons and their control of the Star Sapphire, it seems as if there are many angles left to rise up in this story. Meanwhile, familiar menaces are given a new lease on life, including motivations beyond insanity and evil, and Superboy Prime continues to be the creepiest fanboy in comicdom.

More is revealed regarding Parallax, to the reader as well as the Lost Lanterns and Jordan, possibly tieing up that nagging loose end of Lanterns who were going to hold a grudge.

At my shop this week I was privvy to a lengthy discussion held by a Marvel fanboy who'd been somehow loosely following this series, and decided to drop it when he learned that the rings do not allow a Lantern to kill. This issue within the series is an issue other readers may find fascianting as the Lanterns as a whole must find a way to overcome this obstacle, remaining true to their mission while taking on a seemingly unbeatable foe.

This reader enjoys stories as complication upon complication is hurled at the protagonist, only for the writer to find the method which is true to the character which s/he can use to overcome the obstacle. It's a bit of a strategic puzzle, but I found it curious that what seemed to really bother this reader was that none of the DC fans in the room could tell him how, with the massive challenges put before the Lanterns, the story would resolve itself.

Indeed, Johns has written a seemingly unbeatable force to challenge Hal Jordan and the Lanterns. It shall be a heck of a ride watching this story unfold.



OUTSIDERS: FIVE OF A KIND: WEEK 2: KATANA/SHAZAM 2
Written by Mike W. Barr; Art by Kevin Sharpe and Robin Riggs; Cover by Cliff Chiang

Well, this comic gets my personal vote for most perplexing title for a comic ever in the history of comicdom. Aside from "More Fun Comics" any tiem it featured the brooding image of The Spectre.

Mike W. Barr was once a popular name among comic enthusiasts, but is also a name which has not been seen around the DCU is a while. Most famously, and for the purposes of this conversation, Barr was one of the creators of Batman and the Outsiders during its initial run in the 80's.

Barr returns to Batman and the Outsiders by revisiting one of the most enigmatic of the Outsiders, Katana. Even early on in reading comics, Katana was a character whose make-up was never pat. She had no qualms regarding killing, as her mystical sword supposedly banished evil souls to the land of wind and ghosts where they would suffer rather than actually die. An odd distinction to make to get around Comic Code issues, but Barr made it work. Layered atop that, she was not supposed to be as young as many heroes were portrayed at the time, and often played a mother-figure to the Outsider's resident pygmalion fantasy, Halo.

Barr was obviously not overly concerned with the addition of Winick's Johnny Winter version of Captain Marvel, but still managed to tell a tale with a mystic backfrop so as to include Shazam.

Readers' milage may vary on this issue. Barr drops a lot of exposition, but seems to be much more in touch with Katana than the average DC reader may find themself, especially after the original Outsiders have been off the map for quite a while, let alone DC saw fit to examine Katana's origin in any meaningful manner.

The mystic world inside the Soultaker katana is an oddly concrete world representing feudal Japan from some indeterminate but pre-20th century era. It's an odd choice given the limitless possibilities of the realm. And, in fact, the intrigue of the story requires that readers perhaps care more about Katana's back story than the issue gives readers much of a reason to care.

That Showcase Presents: Outsiders can't really come out fast enough.

Barr may not be as sharp as he once was during the original run of the series, but one does get the feeling that with a few issue under his belt, he'd back in fighting form with his version of what a gritty team actually looks like, rathern than the posturing which winds up in so many other titles. Kudos to DC for bringing back some of these guys who were what made DC great the first time these ideas were tried.



That's it for this week.

Not DC's strongest effort, but with Johns on Green Lantern and Morrison on Batman, the week wasn't a complete wash. Batman: Confidential seems like a strong story, but only if you ignore the vastly superior "Killing Joke".

Countdown is becoming a cumbersome read each and every week, with too little going on to justify the actual weekly output. The lesson DC might have learned from the last months of 52 was that a story can be vast and criss-cross, but you can't hope that the equivalent of a mishmash of back-up features is going to feel like a readabale comic. Sooner or later those stories will need to sustain themselves and scream for more room as their own title, or else teh story isn't worth telling at all.

We'll be back next week with more views and reviews.

In the meantime, don't hesitate to posit your questions, drop some comments and generally insult my taste in funnybooks.

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

Ryan, do you know how the sales of Countdown are doing? Is it better or worse than 52 at the same period of the series?

-- Posted by: Bill at August 13, 2007 12:26 PM

Good question. I looked this up at ICV2.com and here's how it's shaping up...

Issue #44 sold 73,971 copies. Now, there's a steady decline here as #47 77,504 copies. So July and August numbers may reflect that steady decline.

I've seen some folks online calling the title a failure, but 70,000 copies of a comic these days is a gold mine. And issue #44 came in at #22 in the charts, so that ain't bad.

http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/10906.html

52 sold 102,000 copies in its final week (and I think started around 110,000), but that's not representative of the real picture. 52 was selling around 90,000 copies at its lowest point.

The first issue of Countdown (#51) sold 91,083 copies, while #49 had already dropped to 81,484 copies sold.

So, yes, Countdown is selling less. It's also a weekly comic not featuring any key characters, supported by B-List writers and without a clear destination in mind.

-- Posted by: ryan at August 13, 2007 11:15 PM