New Books for June 22nd & 29th, 2005:
Best of the Week
Wow! Planetary #23: Percussion treats us to the wilder side of life in the Planetary Organization (I love these guys in action!), and an orphan’s touching faith in his “father”. Fast-moving, fun AND intriguing. I wish more issues of Global Frequency had been half as exciting: this issue is nearly flawless!
“The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe in Captain America #7 is the most effecting issue yet of Brubaker’s run. The heavy jagged blacks Bill Sienkiewicz used to finish Leon’s single issue New Xmen stories might have suited Jack Monroes’ slow, sad decline a bit better than the heavy line and flat colors employed here. Great, evocative cover by Epting.
The old “Men’s Adventure” genre, which dominated popular paperbacks in the fifties and sixties, gets a revival in two books this week, and both books are beautifully done. Almost every story in Solo: Darwyn Cooke is a lighthearted celebration of the more popular tropes of the genre, right down to the ads that used to appear in magazines like the early Playboy. This collection is capped off by a great story that pits master thieves Stark and Jeff (from Cooke’s original graphic novel, Catwoman: Selena’s Big Score up against the Batman. Without question, the best edition of DC’s Solo series to date.
You can get a taste of something closer to the real thing in Howard Chaykin’s City of Tommorrow #3, where a swaggering ex-spec ops trooper returns home and, quite literally declares war on vice in his hometown. The big difference from older variants of this theme is half the town is populated by domestic service robots gone bad. (The ‘bots form the backbone of the unseemly vice-ridden underbelly of the town, it’s pimps, loan sharks, gambling den operators, hustlers, hookers and shills.) In the process he impresses the ladies, be they human pushovers or crafty robotic whores, who are ready and willing to let him know it. Even more sex soaked than Chaykin’s celebrated American Flagg!, this “city of tomorrow” is definitely not for kids.
Good Art: Straightforward Stories.
The new long-term creative team on takes over in Catwoman #44. Pfieffer’s version of Selena Kyle really enjoys action, whether she’s the careful thief or daring crime fighter. She also seems a bit reckless. A vague offer to take some pressure off the East End doesn’t seem reason enough for Selena to work for Hush. Still it was fun to see Catwoman take on Scarface, and a low rent version of Iron Man earlier in the issue. Pete Wood’s clear line quality applies here works well with Brad Anderson’s color, some panels remind me of fine watercolor, gauche and pen & ink scifi illustration I’ve seen from Europe. I hope Woods and Anderson can maintain the same high standard for the rest of their run on this title.
Mahnke and Nguyen’ straightforward storytelling shines on Batman #641, Judd Winnick’s ‘decent enough’ close to the “Family Reunion” story arc. I think it might have helped if a panel or two had been used to suggest that the fight had gone on for a long time, the better to explain the fact the two still aren’t still tearing at each other by issues end. I look forward to Nightwing, Robin and the Huntress’ reactions to the new, self confident Jason Todd. (Ethically, he’s an intelligent version of Nightwing’s Tad.) Also it would have added a nice subtext to the story if the Huntress had been substituted for Onyx. I find myself hoping Jason Todd figures into the whole Countdown “deal”. Perhaps he should cap Maxwell Lord. That would certainly be a grand way of introducing him to the new DCU as it’s resident version of the Punisher.
Palmiotti’s inks lend welcome structure to Brad Walker’s pencils (and they really look good) in Richard Lissau’s decent Batman short, “A Friend in Need”, in Batman Allies: Secret Files. Driven as ever, Lissau’s Dark Knight finds himself in the humbling position of having to ask a Gotham City PD detective to accept his help on a case. It’s an interesting take on the new status quo in Gotham since the War Games crossover. In **“Taking Sides”, Anderson Gabrych pens an interesting exchange between Tim and Cassandra, that closes with a lead-in to an upcoming one month crossover in the Batman titles. Snyder’s finishes lend Derenick’s expressive compositions a nice Alan Davis-like feel here. Ron Randall does a nice job illustrating an otherwise unnecessary story about Gotham’s peculiar brand of criminals from Commissioner Akin’s point of view.
Sean Murphy and Pete Woods contributed two nice illustrations as well.
Rucka & Morales conclusion to the “Bronze Doors” arc in Wonder Woman #217 had a curiously formal, storybook-like quality-there’s the requisite epic battle, near death experience, and the closing awarding of boons (which reminded me of the end of the film version of Wizard of Oz)- which contrasts sharply with the intrigue and betrayal at the heart of the story. Morales and Bair’s art was great, however, so I’m happy. I found myself wishing Cassandra’s father was the God of War, which seemed to have greater story potential, and that someone would take pity on poor suffering Ferdinand and introduce him to a nice cow.
The Wakandan resistance to economic and military invasion continues in Hudlin, Romita, Jansen and Week’s fast-moving Black Panther #7. I had a little trouble buying into the Black Knight’s capitulation. I realize the Panther is trying to spare the deluded idealist here, but to me, but the tactic felt a bit out of place, given the context of the story. The scene between Klaw and T’Challa’s mother and the deployment of deathlock cyborgs make me wonder how far Hudlin’s planning to take the tale.
Waid and Kitson’s Legion of Superheroes #7 featured really strong characterization (emphasizing Braniac 5 and Chameleon this issue), dark intramural intrigue, action and humor, without feeling rushed. When Brainy flips out, it humanizes him, prick that he his much of the time; and this really isn’t your parent’s Cosmic Boy. These guys play hard ball, and their games as chilling as those in JMS and Frank’s Supreme Power. Reading Supreme Power #17, I wondered how much of this books intensity might be diluted now that it’ll be a Marvel Knight’s title. Much of the intensity here comes from the fact that JMS deals with adult situations. I love the way JMS is developing Mark Milton’s growing isolation and Kingsley and Spectrum’s relationship. Zarda’s callous disregard for life (she needs to be fixed?), and the Generals manipulation combine to keep the reader uneasy suspense throughout. Good issue.
The Kids are Alright
Gabrych dialogue crackles in two good Batkid stories this month. David Cain’s honorable, if stilted version of parental affection (and the way Cassandra returns it) lends Batgirl #65 a fun, if perverse twist; and I liked the way new series penciller Pop Mhan laid out the conversations between Batgirl and Brenda (the coffee shop girl who I’d like to see more of), Onyx, and esp. her scene with Batman in the Cave. (I love the way Mhan draws Cassandra’s mask, which is a big improvement of Ale Garza’s helmet design.)
If sidekicks were truly created for younger readers to give them a character to identify with, Bill Willingham delivers on the wish fulfillment in Robin #139. Here, Willingham shows off Tim Drake’s intellectual strength and near tactical genius, and, more than ever, and Tim begins to look more and more like a credible successor to his mentor (and the Junkyard Dog is also a pretty horrific addition to Tim’s growing rogues gallery). I also appreciated Mindy Owen’s restrained finish over McDaniel’s layouts. With the new art team, Robin could shape up into a dependably fun read, a welcome addition to my monthly pull and hold list.
Geoff Johns and Judd Winnick’s “Insiders” crossover concludes in Teen Titans #25 and Outsiders #25. Geoff John’s Titans showcases Cassandra Sandsmark, the new Wondergirl. Concerned and upset over Connor, she finally cuts loose and demolishes a lot of lethal Superman robots, and has some nice moments with Tim and Connor. The issue also features creepy and intriguing dialogue between the Braniacs, Luthor and “son”, and Indigo and her former lover, Shift. Some felt the Titans and the Outsiders battle with the Superman robots was over to quickly. I felt differently. Clark and Thibert use the relatively long scene to underscore how powerful Cassandra really is, something that’s often overlooked in this title. (If the new Supergirl takes out Connor in September’s Supergirl #2, it would be interesting to see Cassandra manage to put Kara down in retaliation). I think it might have helped however, if some of the panel compositions weren’t so tightly crowded, and if the page layouts featured a couple of wide, long shots, of the kind Grummett employed in earlier issues of the Titans.
Picking up where Johns left off, Judd Winnick’s script for Outsiders #25 starts off pretty well, but was marred by a couple of narrative missteps at issues end. Most of the issue is devoted to the final battle between the assembled heroes and villains, and Carlos D’Anda does a good job of working the emotional highpoints into his page layouts. However I think there was one subplot to many. I found myself wishing D’Anda had the luxury of an extra page or two, the better to set up for Connor’s change of sides, and Dick urging Starfire to cut loose, as Wondergirl did earlier in Titans #25. The narration for the scene where the gathered heroes concentrate fire on Brainiac 8 was all too reminiscent of the climax of the Dark Phoenix arc in Claremont and Byrne’s Xmen, and ended up feeling derivative and forced. Finally Nightwing’s decision to quit the Outsiders at issues end struck a false note. If this is really how Dick Greyson feels about the inevitable dangers of a superheroes life, why doesn’t he quick fighting altogether? Why does he go undercover in his own title or continue to fight with Batman in Gotham? It’s too inconsistant with his “life” elsewhere.
Quick Closing Shots.
Giffen and Bisley take their new Authority/Lobo parody to grotesque extremes in Spring Break Massacre. It’s demented fun, esp. the earlier part of the story. The ending wasn’t quite as funny or effective as their previous effort, the Authority Lobo Xmas Special. I’d still like to see more however. I like their take on the Authority. I can’t really say I liked this months installment of the OMAC Project, #3. It also was far too disjointed. I might bail on this story line. While it was nice to see Mike Mignola’s back on Hellboy: the Island #1, I do wish he’d developed the dialog between Hecate and Hellboy more. For me, that was the most interesting aspect of this issue.