Friday, April 20, 2007

Looking To The Stars - The Week In Reviews For 04/23/07

My comic shop didn't get a few titles, so this isn't quite a complete review of everything I wanted to read this week. But it is a complete review of everything I did read this week.

52 #50
Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid
Artist: Various

The book that managed to be everything that World War III wasn't. Which is ironic, as World War III was meant to be everything that 52 wasn't.

52 was meant to explain away exactly what happened to everyone during the missing year between the end of Infinite Crisis and the start of One Year Later. It didn't, and World War III was created, in part, to answer all the questions that 52 left open.

It didn't do that either. So what exactly did 52 accomplish?

Well, it was entertaining more often than not. And quite honestly, I'm a lot more interested in the various mad scientists and what the heck Rip Hunter and Booster Gold are up to than I am resolving just how the new Firestorm got unscrambled from Cyborg and started connecting with Firehawk.

Also, I'm somewhat pleased to see Power Girl taking a major role in taking down Black Adam here as opposed to in World War III where the job of tackling the big heavy is limited strictly to a group of powerful male characters. I'm just saying.

Grade: B

Birds of Prey #105
Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Nicola Scott & Doug Hazlewood

Okay. So you have the Birds. And they rock.

And you have The Secret Six. Well, technically The Not So Secret Five, but why quibble? And they rock.

And you have Nicola Scott's artwork. Which rocks in socks.

And you have Gail Simone writing and bringing Ice back from the dead. Which rocks foxes in socks.

How - HOW do they make this comic rock even harder?

Two Words: Harley Quinn.

Seriously, we need to bring Dr. Seuss back from the dead so that he can create a letter to go before A in the alphabet, so that I have a better grade to give this book every month. Alas, it shall have to, as usual, settle for an A. Again.

Grade: A

Conan #39
Company Name: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Timothy Truman
Artists: Cary Nord & Rafael Kayanan

And here is another book which is testing my ability as a writer to continue to say original kind things about it. Honestly, there's not a lot I can say about Truman's writing I haven't said before - how he has kept the tone of the book consistent with that of Kurt Busiek before him to the point that I had to double-check and make sure the book had changed writers. I've already said, many times, that his work is done in a style and format to do Robert Howard proud. And even with a fill-in artist this month, I can't complain about the artwork as it is still quite good, despite Kayanan having a different style than Nord.

You know what? Since I have nothing really new to say about Conan, I'm going to bring in a substitute reviewer. That's right - I'm going to take the lazy route this time. I'm going to quote the beloved Chris Sims of Chris' Invincible Super-Blog and what he had to say about this issue.

Conan is one of the rare books that's managed to maintain a consistent, high level of quality not just for the past three years, but even through the change of writer from Kurt Busiek to Tim Truman, so it's often pretty difficult for me to think up something new to say about it. Really, once you've reviewed one issue, you've reviewed them all: "Conan acts like a badass, kills a bunch of dudes, and it's really, really good."

That just sums it up perfectly.

Grade: A

Hellblazer #230 & 231
Company Name: Vertigo Comics
Writer: Andy Diggle
Artist: Leonardo Manco

Somehow, I missed the first issue of Andy Diggle's Hellblazer last month and now that I got it and his second issue this month, I am kicking myself furiously. I had been looking forward to it so much, after all, having enjoyed Diggle's work on Lady Constantine and his all too brief run on the new Swamp Thing series. And with Diggle penning the upcoming Green Arrow: Year One, I was a little anxious to see how he handled my favorite anti-hero before handling my favorite hero this summer.

Without giving too much away, the plot of these two issues centers around John finding himself in a rock and a hard place, ready to take the fall for a gang-related murder of a notorious London gangster's daughter. Of course the real murderer is the thug charged with the task of seeing that John gets what is coming to him and the first half of this story ends with John tricking up a magical solution to his problem.

The second half shows John dealing with the consequences of his solution and trying to do the right thing, only to wind up having things go pear-shaped. All par for the course for John Constantine, naturally - but in these two issues Diggle manages to capture the essence of the character completely.

Is he a bastard? Of course he is. But Diggle argues, as Ennis, Jenkins and Carey did, that John has become a bastard by necessity and that deep down he's still the 20-something punk who is trying to do something to make the world a better place by using his magical power against all the bastards, mortal and immortal, who abuse the power they were given by birth and not by right. As much as he may deny it, there is still a good person in John Constantine trying to get out. And that good person is seen here, trying to do the right thing by the ghost of the daughter of an old friend only to have it all go wrong with John able to do little more than apologize.

Diggle has proven himself to be a masterful Hellblazer scribe and has found the perfect balance of "total bastard" and "sad bastard" to John's character. The artwork by Leonardo Manco is dead perfect too.

Grade: A

Justice League of America #8
Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Brad Meltzer
Artist: Ed Benes and Sandra Hope

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I love Brad Meltzer's character moments, even if I hate his plots.

There is just a certain amount of brilliance to little scenes here.

Batman: Clark has him listed as a Level 15 fighter.

Black Lightning: Is that good?

Batman: Put it this way. Clark has me listed as a 12.

This leads to a scene in which a time-displaced Karate Kid jumps Black Lighting, dispatches him easily, Batman easily blocks the attack aimed at him and then thinks to himself about how much he enjoys proving Superman wrong.

So there's that. The three-way chess match between Hal Jordan, Mr. Terrific and Black Canary. The war games between the various JLA and JSA members. And the splash-page full of conversations with everyone... especially the conversation between Batman and Power Girl regarding the collecting of first edition war journals and Doctor Midnite's attempt to hook up with Black Canary again yielding the same answer.

"I'm not selling." Classic.

That being said, the actual plot of the story - involving time-displaced Legion of Superheroes members (who aren't related to the current incarnation of the Legion of Superheroes, oddly enough) - is somewhat flat and uninspired in comparison to what the characters are doing in their down time. This is a bad sign in a comic that is nominally a high-action adventure book.

Roger Ebert had a good rule about judging the inherit goodness or badness of a movie's story; if your idea for a movie is less exciting or amusing than the idea of a movie about your actors having lunch together, it's probably a bad idea. That seems to be a good appraisal of Brad Meltzer's comic work so far. In fact, I'd love to see him write something akin to Geoff John's old "JLA/JSA Thanksgiving dinner" stories rather than write a story involving missing heroes from the Future.

Grade: C

World War III #1-4
Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Keith Champagne
Artist: Various

Why were these comics collectively called World War III?

Because Shakespeare already holds the copyright on Much Ado About Nothing.

That's a crap joke, I admit. I know Shakespeare is long dead and his works are in the Public Domain, so logically the joke makes no sense. And yet, if you're the pedantic sort to argue this point while missing the point of the joke - that World War III was "much ado about nothing" - then you're probably the target audience for this book.

A little back story for those of you who read this column to keep up on the comic news without actually reading comics; a little over a year ago, DC Comics had most of their books jump forward One Year in time following the Infinite Crisis storyline. They created a new weekly title, 52, that was meant to cover everything that happened during the missing year.

This allowed the writers to start their books over with some completely new and interesting premises meant to encourage reader interest, if only by confusing them into reading more just to understand what had happened. In some cases, such as Birds of Prey and Detective Comics, it worked. In other cases, the results were confusing and turned off more readers than it brought in. Such was the case with books like Aquaman (aka Conan of Atlantis), Greg Rucka's Supergirl and Nightwing (aka OH GOD THE BURNING!)

The problem is that right now we're on Week 50 of 52 and there's still a LOT of big mysteries that haven't been touched. Enter World War III which tries to explain away some of those mysteries away. To be fair, some of the big mysteries are seemingly clarified in these four books. One of these involves J'onn J'ozz and his sudden "badass" attitude in his new solo title. This is, I think, explained away here as being the result of J'onn having been telepathically connected to Black Adam when he got pounced by the JSA. Somehow, the connection made the highly empathic J'onn more like Black Adam.

The problem is that there are a lot of mysteries that aren't even touched and there are quite a lot of things that are even more confusing once they are explained.

The destruction of Atlantis and salvation of Sub Diego, for example. Now, I haven't been reading Aquaman but I knew that basically part of San Diego was sunk and that the people there mysteriously developed the ability to breathe underwater before OYL started. Well, just as suddenly, according to this book, they were being slowly killed by the ocean and this had something to do with the ancient Ocean gods being pissed about surface dwellers being in their domain. So Aquaman wound up using his own magic, saved the people of Sub Diego and turned himself into Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean.

You heard me.

Also, Supergirl - who disappeared during a Zeta Beam explosion during Infinite Crisis - apparently didn't return until Week 50... which leaves her two weeks to hook up with Power Girl, get some Kryptonian power suits and then decide to go into the Bottle City of Kandor, fighting crime there... for some reason... at the start of HER book One Year Later.

And despite being elected mayor and not having been seen for over a year ANYWHERE according to his own book, Green Arrow is among the heroes assaulting Black Adam as he stages a one man invasion of China. So is Black Canary, who was supposed to be in a rice field somewhere in Southeast Asia training with...

You know what? Forget it. It's not worth going into any further. It sucks. Don't buy it. Just read 52 #50 and whatever books you want and you won't miss a thing.


And when are they going to explain when Babs and Dick broke their engagement?!?!?

Grade: F


  1. And when are they going to explain when Babs and Dick broke their engagement?!?!?
    Wasn't there a Nightwing annual this week that dealt with this?

  2. There might have been. I didn't read it. I've been avoiding Nightwing since just before Devin Grayson took over the title.
    Ah hell... how I'm going to have to look for this book... :P

  3. Nightwing Annual #2. Written by Marc Andreyko. Good story, though with a few additional flashbacks that may not be suitable for young ones... or those who keep thinking that Dick is all innocent and... well, not a dick.