Comic Fodder

DC Reviews, Week 12-10-2008

Travis has disappeared to lands unknown for the week, so he's asked me to step in and do some reviews. I didn't pick up any Marvel titles this week so I leave you to the undiscovered country of a world without Comic Fodder's words of wisdom to guide you through your Marvel reads for the week (I'm usually the DC guy, so hopefully that's no huge shocker).

It's been a while since I reviewed a single floppy for this site, my personal site, what have you... so bear with me.

Final Crisis #1
words and story by: Grant Morrison
Art: JG Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino

Travis and I have cordially disagreed about Morrison's "Final Crisis" series since it launched a few months ago. And I kind of think that either you're with Morrison on this one or you aren't. Despite the unapologetically deep dive the series makes into DC lore and Kirby's 70's-era work for DC, the actual story of the series is fairly straightforward. Evil wins. The world is in free-fall as Darkseid and the New Gods hatch the first evil plan we've seen actually take root successfully in the DCU since COIE.

No doubt Morrison's work reads much, much better as a single read rather than spread out over the better part of a year. In this chapter, Morrison takes what has seemingly already gone very, very badly and made it much, much worse for the citizens and heroes of the planet.

Not all will enjoy Morrison's tendency to speak elliptically about what's occurring each sequence (while often simultaneously giving specifics about things like Biomacs, which... you either get that or you don't). This reader feels it adds to the degenerated chaos of the world under these conditions, and that sort of chaos has been used before (or at least that's how I felt about some of the chaotic battles of Morrison's World War III). But as a straight narrative, because the base storyline is fairly simple, the story holds together.

I really wasn't bothered at all by the multiple artists on this issue, and don't foresee myself growing frustrated with the changes in art chores. Honestly, I feel the work is well-rendered, even if its not representative of either Pacheco or Jones' best work.

As with all Morrison stories, its hard to predict what lays ahead as the threat reaches its apex and the characters we count on for heroes seem to just now be reversing from a defensive posture to striking back. With two issues left, I am very, very interested to see where all of this goes.

If I may harp upon my personal issues with DC editorial... Morrison seems to have had a pretty darn clear vision of what happened with the New Gods prior to this series. While I think we can agree that if nothing thus far has unseated Didio from his job, nothing short of a cartoonishly enormous shoe horn will get him out the door. However... the epic failure of both Countdown to Infinite Crisis and Death of the New Gods is so apparent at this point, if both series were supposed to be leading into Final Crisis... no wonder they've asked Morrison himself to step in and explain away Didio's egotistical/ editorial blunders (I hope they gave Morrison a big ol' sack of money for clearing it up, too).

With fan dissatisfaction regarding Secret Invasion at a crescendo, one has to wonder, as Final Crisis enters its final phase, if fans are still buying Final Crisis just to complain about it (it is one of DC's best sellers), or if the negative voices on the internet are not representative of true fan feelings. The story is of a different bent than the 3rd derivation of something you saw before I gave up on with Secret Invasion #3 or 4.

Are fans enjoying Final Crisis, or are they reading it because they feel they have to?

Final Crisis Revelations #4

Words and Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Philip Tan and Jonathan Glapion

I would be curious to see how Rucka would handle a large-scale crisis-type event if it was placed in his hands. After all, it seems that his strength lies not in plot, although I would not discount his plots, but in his innate ability to bring character to the page in a way few other writers truly seem to grasp in superheroic comics. But perhaps that speaks to Rucka's background as an offbeat adventure writer and someone who bothered to go to college to study the craft of storytelling.

The Revelations storyline continues threads begun way, way back in the pages of Gotham Central as Cris Allen and Renee Montoya are two of the only characters in the DCU who grow and change (and its kind of obvious and painful when other writers or editors have handled Allen, foisting uncharacteristic behavior upon the character, even as The Spectre). Which leads this reader to wonder how many storylines were' seeing crammed into a single mini-series here that Rucka felt he had to wrap up lest some other writer might manhandle at a later date.

One must assume this series is occurring during the earliest hours of the events of Final Crisis in order to believe this series works within the Final Crisis mega-narrative, and it does seem to add a certain level of humanity to the cosmic-level, 6000 foot view of Morrison's mini-series, just as inserts such as "Submit" and "Resist" have also done. Just on a grander scale.

Rucka's take on Vandal Savage as Cain touches on elements that Final Crisis might have missed, from how Christian paradigms fit into the events of Final Crisis, as well as the supernatural angle of the DCU, which is supposed to handle exactly events like Final Crisis, was sidelined. But Rucka succceeds not in pulling comic-booky continuity tricks, but in humanizing the face of all of these aspects through Mercy, Huntress, and, as always, Renee Montoya.

I DO like Philip Tan's work, even when I think the inker and colorist may have gone a bit nutty with some extremes in trying to generate mood. At some point, there's a sameness and murkiness to some scenes that could have been improved.

If you aren't picking this series up now, I recommend you check it out.

Detective Comics #851
Written by: Denny O'Neil
Art by: Guillem March

O'Neil has a surprisingly tight grasp on the world around the Batman comics, coming on after the events of "Batman RIP". In some ways, it reminded me of how very little I would notice changes between writers when I first began reading comics as a kid, as it seemed like a far stronger mandate in those days for editors to maintain continuity from issue to issue, no matter what sort of changing of guard was occurring (Pssssst. Superhero comic writers. It's called "professionalism". Look it up.).

A key difference between a detective series like the Batman books and one like Eisner's "The Spirit" is that the Batbooks tend to stick to telling stories around Batman and his supporting cast while Eisner was happy to focus on the crooks, miscreants, saps and unfortunates that populated The Spirit's world and who were the real story in most installments. O'Neil handily mixes the two styles, checking in with Dick Grayson and Alfred, to be sure, but spending significant page count painting a significant picture of the victims, the crooks and Two-Face as he's inserted into the business of the story. There's a lot of story to the issue, something DC has wisely looked to masters like O'Neil to remind writers and readers where the bar can be set with proven techniques.

The story itself, on the heels of the thunderous Batman RIP, feels almost quiet by comparison. But its a solid first part to a two-parter, and doesn't feel like a mere filler issue. Instead, it's a moment after the events of RIP, crime hasn't stopped in Gotham and the members of the Bat Family are reluctantly picking up the pieces. Dick's decision not to use a Batmobile wasn't exactly a "fight back the tears" moment, but it was true not just to the character of Dick Grayson and Alfred, but in demonstrating how well O'Neil knows the know Batman, mixed with the complication of loss, legacy, etc.... Nice story beat there.

The Millicent/ Gracchus storyline was well thought out, and beginning with Millicent's story of "who she is and how she came to be" was well fleshed out, even if Gracchus is a bit of a stock Gothamite criminal.

Anyhoo... O'Neil may not have been given an opportunity to spin out an epic story here, but the man who put such an indelible mark on the DCU returns to writing for DC as if he never left and has been a part of the DCU all along. You have to like that.

I wasn't a huge fan of March's rendering, despite the fact I actually did like the layouts. So I don't know what to make of that. I just didn't feel that his (her?) work was particularly suited to the Batbooks at this particular juncture. (I'd almost be curious to see him tackle a Western, like Jonah Hex...)

Looking forward to the next part of the story.

Action Comics #872
Written by: Geoff Johns
Art: Pete Woods

Well, if you read my columns, you're going to know I am hardly objective when it comes to Superman, and have been throughly enjoying the Johns/ Robinson/ Gates shake-up in the Superman titles.

Johns' seems to avoid the pitfalls he's fallen into before, when he's sacrificed character for story, and as he's increasingly (here, in JSA, AND in GL) raising his game with character without sacrificing the action, I think there's a good reason he's become such a popular writer. Part of me wonders how much more satisfying of a read we'd have in Infinite Crisis if he wrote it today instead of in 2006ish.

The action of the other Superman titles fits seamlessly into Action, as the citizens of Kandor continue to spread their wings in their new home. Whether Johns and Co. intend for New Krypton to reflect current events or not, its difficult to ignore the parallels of the arrogance of cultural imperialism as portrayed here, with deaths of locals seen as nothing more than collateral damage by otherwise good intentioned people and believing that enforcing their concepts of culture, justice, etc... upon a people who cannot keep up with technology or military might is tough nuts... It's increasingly difficult to disagree with Luthor's take on Kryptonians as the series progresses.

The Superman books needed this storyline in many ways. While dropping 100,000 Kryptonians into the DCU will give Byrne-era Superman fans a coronary, the Superman titles are often not so much about a guy in tights clobbering bad guys as judicious use of power by a figure who must always balance what he could do versus what he should do, and (as the death of Jonathan Kent illustrates) that there are limits to any stretch of that power.

Like Final Crisis, I really have no clue how this story will continue to unfold. Without true conflict, there would be no story, and after reading comics for 20-odd years, that's a welcome treat.

Further, Johns seems to have Luthor pegged. The scene between he and Brainiac was absolute perfection (and reminded me of a Silver Age Luthor/Brainiac team up you can read in the current Superman vs. Brainiac collection).

Now.. as to Kanigher's Creature Commandos... I don't know how I can be objective about Universal Movie Monsters, a robot, a gorgon and what seems to be Robert Kanigher in a helmet rejoining the DCU ('tip of the hat to The ISB). It's as reasonable a conceit as any in the DCU and fits the story.

I read a complaint or two about the cross-cutting of action in the final pages of the issue, but I thought it worked pretty well in using the medium as the message to demonstrate how things had quite quickly spun out of control.

Anyhow, if you're not reading Superman comics now, I highly recommend picking up Johns' work on Action since arriving in collected format. It's been a great ride.

I've mentioned elsewhere that I like Pete Woods' work quite a bit, and that continues with his work here. It's not always as strong here as it might have been in "Up, Up and Away" or "Amazons Attack!", but his layout is strong, rendering good, and it fits well with the current look, paired with Renato Guedes.

That's it for me

It was fun getting back to doing reviews. Hope you guys enjoyed my pearls of wisdom.

What did you read that you liked this week?


Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.

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Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.

He likes Superman.

You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at theleague.cf@gmail.com