Saturday, October 6, 2007

Looking To The Stars - The Week In Reviews for 10/03/07

Company Name: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Tim Truman
Artist: Cary Nord

This is one of the most consistently high-quality books on the market. So much so that I rarely write reviews of it. The reason for this is because said reviews tend to repeat themselves pretty quickly, unless there is something particularly noteworthy about the issue or if it is a good time for new readers to jump on to the book.

This is not the case this time, as this issue is the conclusion of a four-part adaptation of Robert E. Howard's short-story Rogues In The House. Not exactly the best issue to jump on with. And this issue isn't particularly noteworthy in the sense that, as always, the writing and art are of the highest quality and blend together seamlessly. So why am I reviewing it now?

Because Cary Nord, who has been the regular artist of Conan since the very first issue of the Dark Horse Comics Conan series, leaves the book with this issue. And while I have every confidence that Dark Horse, being Dark Horse, will find a worthy replacement for Nord as they did when Kurt Busiek left the title and Tim Truman took over the writing duties, I cannot help but be more than a little sad to see Nord leaving.

Apart from being one-half of the team who won an Eisner for their work on the series' first issue (The now-legendary Conan #0) and having a unique, uninked style which perfectly set the tone of the series, Nord is such a skilled artist that he can add a unique level of excitement to so simple a scene as a town guard arguing with a wagon driver.

Take a look at these pages and note the use of shadow and depth, which foreshadow the moment later when we find out the grim business of the wagon driver and his cowled master.

Such is Nord's artistry that he can add such subtle foreboding to a scene such as this as well as the more action-heavy scenes later in which Conan fights an ape-man with nothing more than a simple dagger. This may see a simple thing but it is surprisingly rare these days to find an artist who succeeds in depicting both scenes of high-action and the more subtle excitement of conversation. Nord is a true artist and he will be sorely missed.


Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Paul Dini
Artists: Don Kramer and Wayne Faucher

I think I've finally figured out the problem with Countdown. Reading this issue of Detective Comics, it became obvious to me that the fault lies not within Paul Dini's stories, but in the execution of his general story concepts at the hands of less-skilled writers.

The story here is an engaging one and while it takes place within the framework of the Gotham City-based stories Dini has focused on since he started his run on Detective, it also integrates one of the more lackluster (to me, at least) stories in Countdown. I'm referring to the story of Holly Robinson (aka Catwoman's long-time sidekick and short-term substitute Catwoman) becoming involved with an Amazon Women's Shelter in Metropolis, which is being run by a reformed Harley Quinn and "The Goddess Athena" (aka a disguised Granny Goodness).

Impressively, Dini does a good job of bringing people who might not be reading Countdown up to speed on the new status quo with Harley and Holly as well as the conceit that The Riddler has reformed and set himself up as Gotham City's newest and greatest private-detective for hire - a situation that has Batman more than a little bit annoyed. This makes this book a perfect "first book" for new readers and anyone who hasn't been following half the books in the DCU right now. His only misstep in not "explaining it all" comes at the end, in which there is no explanation given for why "Athena" is talking with one of the more evil New Gods.

But it is in the dialogue and characterization that Dini shines, which is no surprise to those of us familiar with his Batman: The Animated Series work. His Riddler, Harley Quinn and Holly are genuinely likeable people in spite of their former villainy. One cannot help but be sympathetic for them and their efforts at redemption and hope that, however unlikely, their new turns as heroes will stick.

What really makes this impressive is that despite their new positions and desire to change, Harley and Eddie Nigma still haven't changed that much as people and are still the same old characters we all knew and loved as villains. Harley is still sheepish and co-dependent - she's just changed masters. Eddie is still a smug intellectual show-off - he's just found a way to get paid legally for showing people how stupid they are.

It seems likely then that had Dini taken full-authorship duties, Countdown would not be quite so problematic a series. And if Don Kramer had been hired to do all or at least half of the issues, the artwork would no be quite so uneven. As it is, this book makes me mourn for what might have been. But it also makes me rejoice for what is, under Dini's pen, the best Bat-book on the stands. Would that he could write it more regularly.


Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Dave Gibbons
Artists: Pat Gleason and Prentis Rollins

There are a lot of ways I can talk about just how awesome this book (and The Sinestro Corps War in general, for that matter) are.

I could harp on about the amazing artwork presented by Pat Gleason and Prentis Rollins. I could talk about how each of the unique alien races is depicted as being truly unique and alien. I could note that all of the regular alien Green Lanterns are easily identified - which you'd think wouldn't need to be a bonus in a series like this, but having read a lot of bad Green Lantern comics with a lot of art where you couldn't tell Hal Jordan from Arkkis Chummuck, I always make note of it when it happens.

I could talk about the masterful writing by legendary Watchmen artist (and no mean writer, it turns out) Dave Gibbons. I could talk about how, despite this issue centering upon one big massive battle in space, the personalities of each character, good and bad, come through perfectly in what brief conversation is allowed. I could even talk about Gibbons' eye for detail and past continuity and how this story (which takes place at the same time as the most recent Green Lantern) seems to fall into perfect alliance with the prophecy regarding the destruction of the Green Lantern Corps laid out in Alan Moore's classic Green Lantern story "Tygers.

Yes, I could talk about all of this. But nothing would make these points better than for me to show this panel.

Why is this so important? Long-time reader (and no mean comic historian himself) Mark Poa wrote an article explaining it all on another blog. He recognized, as I did, that both the alien races seen in the above panel have appeared before in a rather obscure story - "Nobler in the Mind" from GLA #5. What is impressive about this is not only that continuity is rarely used in such a fashion these days but that Gleason perfectly apes Bill Willingham's style rather than creating his own "look" for the chicken-like inhabitants of the planet Qualar IV.


Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Alan Burnett
Artist: Patrick Blaine and Jay Leisten

This book is a puzzler. It's not bad at all but somehow, I can't give it a top grade either.

It's not that the art isn't good. It is.

It's not that the writing isn't good. It is.

I think the problem lies in that there really isn't much interest in the main character of this book. There is little human interest in the very inhuman Cyborg Superman. Even he admits as much in this book, as he recalls his previous life and how he wound up in his current state - a monster, more machine than man and virtually unable to die. He has been further empowered by the Sinestro Corps with one of their yellow fear-powered rings and is also (thanks to his powers to command electronics) commander of the infamous Manhunter robots.

And yet, for all his power, he has no desire for power like Sinestro. He works against his greatest enemies - Hal Jordan and Superman - and yet he has no real desire for revenge. No, what the Cyborg Superman wants is death. He wants peace. He wants oblivion. And as he leads the assault upon Earth as the rest of the Sinestro Corps escape their various battles in deep space, he laments not that the coming battle will be difficult but that Superman is both unwilling and unable to kill him.

The one flaw with this issue is that it doesn't feel like essential reading. While one could probably skip the previous Tales of the Sinestro Corps: Parallax special, one wouldn't want to since the story brought forth some amazing revelations regarding Kyle Rayner's character as well as what looked like a key turning-point in the battle between Kyle and the evil that possesses him.

This issue doesn't offer the same urgency. Sure, it serves as an excellent history primer for those unfamiliar with the character of Cyborg Superman. And the story does a good job of painting Hank Henshaw in a light that is both sympathetic and horrifying as an immortal man who has lost everything and who longs for death so much that he's willing to help destroy the universe, since that may be the only way he can die. But apart from explaining away why Earth's heroes may not be any help in the battle against The Sinestro Corps, this issue doesn't seem to advance the main story of The Sinestro Corps War at all.



  1. Question though: Isn't Poison Ivy out and running around in the DCU right now? Harley could hang out with her.
    Perhaps I'm nitpicking, but she played a pretty prominent role in Countdown but Harley still refers to all of her friends being dead or in jail.
    I think Dini is very good, but I'm not positive he is meant to lead a company line like he has been. He is a master of the details, but if the scope gets too big it may be that he can't control it.


  2. Question though: Isn't Poison Ivy out and running around in the DCU right now? Harley could hang out with her.
    Perhaps I'm nitpicking, but she played a pretty prominent role in Countdown but Harley still refers to all of her friends being dead or in jail.

    If you want to get technical, all of Harley's friends are dead, in jail or in an asylum. ;)
    The way I figure it, it is entirely possible that Harley didn't know Ivy had escaped. Something tells me that with her desire to get away from Mistah Jay and rebuild her life coupled with all the day-to-day business being the assistant shelter director and head shrink, Harley's probably been a bit busy to keep up on the scene... assuming she wanted to in the first place.

  3. To a non-GLC reader, those issues of Sinestro Corps are tremendously dificult. I really enjoy everything about the GL issues and the one-shot was tremendous. But GLC is overloaded with random characters that I have zero background on. Its no good.