Sunday, January 21, 2007

Looking To The Stars - The Week In Reviews for 1/22

HEROES returns tonight! I am a happy little fanboy. So while I am busy cuing up every recording device I have and strapping myself down to the couch lest I be washed away in the waves of pure awesomeness that are sure to follow, why don’t you read some reviews?

52 Week #22
Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid
Art: Various

The cover gives the secret away, but it appears that we have finally learned who Supernova really is. And it appears, also, that the death of a big-name character last issue was naught but a red-herring. But what really sold this issue for me was a brief, two-page scene between Black Canary and Green Arrow that is everything their relationship should be. I’m not sure if the rumors of an impending wedding in 2007 are true – but if they are, I’d say this scene with an Ollie who wonders aloud about how it is possible to love a woman enough to let go of her is a fine way to start moving toward that end.

Grade: A

Birds of Prey #102
Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Gail Simone
Art: Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood

Okay, if you’re a Manhunter fan – buy this book. It will help ease the withdrawal symptoms as your favorite character sinks into oblivion until the next time they try and reinvigorate the franchise. There’s a lot for the rest of us to enjoy as well, including a battle of wits between Lois Lane and Barbara Gordon and Big Barda teaching the lesson of why it is always important to be sensitive about a woman’s figure even if she isn’t capable of shot-putting an SUV. The one downside? The new Judomaster is still very much a cipher and I sill miss Black Canary’s presence on this book.

Grade: B

Conan #36
Company Name: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Timothy Truman
Artist: Paul Lee

A sequel of sorts to the very first published Conan story, The Phoenix On The Sword, this two-part “flash-forward” story tells us a tale from Conan’s days of the King of Aquilonia as he fights a threat to his kingdom. While I have been rather looking forward to the next chapter of the adapted chronology of the Conan history (Rogues in the House is my favorite Conan story of all time) and was a little upset at this digression, I cannot fault this story for not being worth the time of telling. Truman continues to wield Busiek’s sword and matches him for style and quality. And the artwork, by Conan and the Demons of Khitai artist Lee is a most worthy temporary replacement for Cary Nord.

Grade: B

Fantastic Four #542
Company Name: Marvel Comics
Writers: Dwayne McDuffie
Artist: Mike McKone, Andy Lanning and Cam Smith

I used to think there was no more thankless task for the writer of a regular comic-book series than having to shift your entire story-line around a big company event. I now think there is one worse thing – having to start your run on a regular comic-book series while shifting your stories around a big company event.

Thankfully, Dwayne McDuffie (the genius behind Static and most of the best episodes of Justice League and Justice League Unlimited) not only proves capable of hitting the ground running - he sets the world record for the 100 yard dash.

In this 90% talking-heads issue, McDuffie takes some of the more ludicrous attempts to justify some very out-of-character behavior during Civil War and turns them on their head. Perhaps the best example of this is Johnny Storm calling Reed Richards on his bullshit speech about “the importance of following the law, even if you don’t agree with it” by pointing out that the adventure that created the Fantastic Four began with Reed stealing a spaceship and wondering just how many times Reed has violated international law by interfering with the affairs of state in other nations. We also get a much more in-character motivation for Reed going along with the Pro-Registration side that he didn’t think anyone would understand or believe.

Note to Joe Quesada: Do not make the same mistake DC Comics did. Give McDuffie more work. Give him as many titles as possible. I don’t think any one writer can single-handedly pull you out of the pit that you’ve gotten the company into... but McDuffie can be the first to start pulling you up.

Grade: A

Green Lantern #16
Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Geoff Johns
Art: Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert

Judging by the Comics Nexus Forums, I am one of the few who is enjoying this title. And yet, even as a die-hard Green Lantern who is pleased to see Hal Jordan back, even I think there is way too much going on in this book right now. Between the formation of a Sinestro Corps to counter the Green Lanterns, the return of the Manhunters under the command of the Cyborg Superman, the resurrection of a now legal Arissa, John Stewart being off “on a mission undercover somewhere”, intergalactic bounty hunters looking for Hal Jordan, the POW subplot, Hal’s crush on fellow pilot Cowgirl, the reformation of The Rocket Reds, a new branch of the Global Guardians harassing Hal in the wake of some treaty that forbids superheroes from operating outside their country of origin and the upcoming creation of an all new Star Sapphire – it is too much.

Even though some of this does get put on the path to resolution this issue, with Geoff Johns finally doing something with a villain who had perhaps the most inspired idea as well as the worst execution during the Kyle Rayner years, it still seems like there is enough drama here for a whole Corps of Green Lanterns much less the one Green Lantern of Earth. Still, you can’t say that Johns does not try to do justice to all these stories or that he indeed fails. I just wish we could actually go somewhere with one group of villains before he introduces another one.

Grade: C

Red Sonja Annual #1
Company Name: Dynamite Entertainment
Writer: Michael Avon Oeming
Art: Stephen Sadowski

I refuse to believe that the Michael Avon Oeming who wrote this issue can be the same Michael Avon Omeing who writes the regular Red Sonja series. Because the story in this annual, I’m sorry to say, is several sorry steps down in quality from his usual stellar work. The plot, in brief, involves a buxom 40-something barmaid who is inspired by the legends of Red Sonja to free herself and the girls in the brothel/inn her husband runs from their virtual enslavement.

Now this, in of itself, is a great idea for a story. After all, some of the best stories in comics are those in which we see the positive changes a hero brings about through their inspiration, not direct action. But the action in this issue defies belief, with a woman killing her husband and a few other men, burning an inn to the ground and then waking up, along with the girls, unharmed in the smoldering wreckage the next morning.

How did they survive- divine intervention? And where was the city watch in all this? Even by the lax standards of your average lawless Hyborian town, you’d expect at least one guard to show up and make sure the fire didn’t spread. And when Sonja herself shows up to give her nod of approval to the whole venture, it’s as cloyingly sweet as the ending of your average Mr. T cartoon. And no, that’s not a compliment.

Still, all silliness of the story aside, this issue does have to factors that redeem it. First, the artwork by Stepehen Sadowski is excellent, resembling a less-posed and more realistic Joseph Linsner. Secondly, the back half of this annual is taken up by a complete chronology of all of Red Sonja’s appearances – in her own titles, Conan and the Savage Sword of Conan magazine - complete with annotations, notes of continuity conflicts and exact issue numbers making this issue a must-have for any Sonja fan who has wished to collect her past adventures without having to buy up entire runs of comics.

Grade: C overall. A for the chronology, B for the artwork and F for the actual story.

Xena Warrior Princess Annual #1
Company Name: Dynamite Entertainment
Writer: Keith Champagne
Artists: Noah Salonga

If this is the kind of work we can expect from Keith Champenge in the upcoming World War III books from DC, I think I’ll pass on the storyline, thanks.

Perhaps it is wrong to expect a serious attention to detail from a book as silly and self-mocking as Xena. Then again, when a casual fan of the show like myself can spot continuity errors - such as Gabrielle swearing by The Prophet Jebus - I mean Eli, despite the fact that her costume is that of the earlier-seasons Gabrielle before that storyline ever took place – I doubt it will please the die-hard fans of the Warrior Princess.

Still, ignoring all issues of show history and where this story would fall into it, this issue is still a real mess. The story, which introduces aliens into the world of Xena, destroys the thin veneer of seriousness that makes Xena work as a concept. Yes, some of the characters are goofy and yes the action is over the top. But in a world full of magic and gods who are actively screwing with the cosmos, it makes an odd sort of sense. Bringing in creatures from outside this world – literally, in this case – breaks the fourth wall that makes the entire concept work.

It doesn’t help matters much that the art, good as it is in portraying the characters from the show, makes the aliens Xena fights here resemble Predator – adding an unintentional comic aspect to the whole story of Xena mercy-killing a shipwreck survivor as he tries to tell her that he’ll be fine once its’ mate, a medic, returns and said mate going on a rampage to avenge the death of its’ loved one.

Grade: D

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